Pokemon Go boss justifies ‘painful’ app change – and teases groundbreaking campfire trick

THE developers of Pokémon Go often shy away from talking about the game, which has been an integral part of many people’s lives since 2016.

It launched the mobile gaming genre now known as geo-gaming, which encourages people to play games in the real world.

Guzzlord comes for you.

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Guzzlord comes for you.Photo credit: Niantic

We spoke to Michael Steranka, Director of Pokémon Go at Niantic, about his future plans for the game, the team’s relationship with the community, and if there will ever be justice for Kecleon.

Speaking of Pokémon Go’s game space, Steranka said, “It adds a little extra fun and magic to your day.

“It has always been a conscious design choice for us. It’s like a companion app to your daily life.”

However, since Pokémon Go’s launch, a number of other titles have popped up trying to emulate its success.

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Steranka is pleased that others are taking the reins: “I think it’s great to see other developers entering the geo-gaming space.”

“But they find it’s not as easy as it seems on paper. We don’t think Pokémon Go has to be the only real VR game.

“There is a lot of space in this category.”

Pokémon Go has evolved a lot over the years, from a simple battery-draining pidgey collector to a competitive fighter, even making an appearance at the Pokémon World Championships this year.

He says: “It was a dream come true for us. It’s the fastest competitive Pokémon game you can watch.

“We’ll be there again next year in the tournament season.”

However, balancing competitive play with the game’s original casual intent is a tricky balancing act.

Casual gamers just want something that’s fun and easy to empathize with, while the hardcore audience wants catching rare Pokémon to be an achievement.

Steranka agrees, “To be honest, that’s the biggest challenge in developing a game like Pokémon Go.

“We think we’ve done a pretty solid job so far, creating that layer of depth that hardcore players are looking for and making it super accessible for new players.

“Each system influences another; We have to look at the game holistically and make sure changes don’t impact something unintended.”

Many of these systems have changed during the lockdown. One was that incense sticks brought Pokémon to you, so you didn’t have to go outside to play Pokémon Go.

When this was removed, players were distraught, but Steranka believes it was necessary.

He explains: “We know it was painful for a lot of players.

“There are great games made for the home, but that’s not Pokemon Go. This will never be Pokemon Go.

“Ash would never have won the championship if he had never left his homeland.”

For rural and remote players, however, this can create tension as players are needed in large numbers to take on the more difficult raids.

However, Niantic is trying to combat this in a number of ways, including with a new app called Campfire that is currently in testing.

He explains: “We think it’s really important for players to meet people in person.

“We released a companion app for Pokémon Go called Campfire where you can coordinate with other people.

“You can send up a torch and communicate to everyone in your community that you want to go there.”

Pokémon Go is hosting a special event this week where players from around the world can catch all available Ultra Beasts with some exciting prospects of battles.

These events are designed to bring people together in specific locations, particularly those who would not normally be able to beat a five-star raid.

He explains, “For a lot of people, it’s their first chance to catch all these Ultra Beasts.

“There will also be some fun things that only happen in London, so make sure to head over there over the course of the weekend.”

“It’s one of the few times you can catch them with less than 1.5k CP.”

The only raid style that has been mysteriously missing is the two-star raid, which high-level players could handle alone.

Steranka explains the reasoning behind the decision: “We narrowed it down to one, three and five because there wasn’t enough challenge differentiation.

“We couldn’t really find the perfect balance to keep two stars [raid] in the game. No plans at this time, but as Justin Bieber fans say, ‘Never say never’.”

From #JusticeForKecleon to changes to the battle system, the Pokémon Go fanbase has never been shy about speaking out.

Niantic is often accused of not listening, when it’s actually a conscious choice to bring his idea for the game to life.

He explains, “We have a passionate player base and that’s what makes this community so fun and vibrant. Everyone has a clear opinion of what they want to see.

“Ultimately, we always come back to the core tenets of the game: practice, exploration, and social interactions, that’s our guiding star for every decision we make.

“We know that not every decision we make is the perfect one, and we want to adjust the game over time.

“But there’s always going to be a core tension of what a lot of people want and what we envision as the game’s mission.”

That’s all well and good, but where’s Kecleon? Will it ever come to Pokémon Go?

He says, “In the main series games, Kecleon has a very unique ability. There are certain Pokemon that we want to make sure we’re doing right.

“Before we introduce Kecleon to the world, we want to make sure that the way we present it is something special. Justice to how this Pokémon works.”

It sounds like Kecleon will have a special ability in the overworld like Ditto or Zorua at launch, a design the team clearly discussed.

With the success of Pokémon Go crossovers with the mainline games, everyone has been waiting for the Let’s Go sequel. There was promising news.

He explains, “We work very closely with The Pokémon Company in Tokyo and are always looking for crossovers that make sense.

“We’re always open about it and always having active conversations, and players can definitely expect to see more in future generations.”

I pointed out that Pokemon Scarlet and Violet have a bunch of new evolutions for some underrated Gen 2 Pokemon.

He replied: “Right. They do.” With a wink and a knowing smile.

Written by Georgina Young on behalf of GOOD LUCK AND HAVE FUN.

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