By Mac Lorenz Santos
In the past 20 years (or so) of the Pokémon franchise, the biggest change I have seen in the said franchise is the release of Pokémon GO – its first attempt to enter the mobile, location-based, and augmented reality type of gaming.
As a kid (at heart) who is around as old as the Pokémon franchise, I grew up playing the main series games and built several teams in my journey of being the Pokémon champ. I followed Ash Ketchum’s journey of being a Pokémon master along with Pikachu, the most popular character in the franchise, by watching the anime. I dreamed that these fictional creatures exist in real life, accompanying us in our daily lives, training them in order to get stronger, and protecting us from evil-doers. I may not be the biggest fan but I still am a fan of the franchise. When the teaser video of Pokémon GO spread through social media, I was amused with the concept. This is the closest thing to achieving this dream.
(Photo courtesy of: https://www.cnet.com/how-to/how-to-play-pokemon-go/)
Pokémon GO is a location-based and augmented reality game available in Apple (iOS) and Android devices. The game is free to download via the Apple Play Store and the Google Play Store and is available in several countries worldwide. It was first released last July 6, 2016 and developed by Niantic in partnership with The Pokémon Company. In the Philippines, the game was officially released last August 6, 2016. Basically, the game still developed the slogan of the franchise – Gotta catch ‘em all. However, the game play is much, much different compared to the main games. In terms of game play, here are three of the most striking differences as observed by someone who has played main series games beforehand (meaning, me):
- Wild Pokémon Encounters – In the main series games, trainers (meaning the player) needs to walk through patches of grass, go inside caves, or surf over water in order to encounter wild Pokémon (those available for catching) by using a directional keypad. Once a wild Pokémon appears, you need to weaken it first using your own Pokémon before throwing a ball to increase your odds of catching it. In Pokémon GO, the player walks physically in order to encounter wild Pokémon. Once one pops up, there is no need to weaken the wild Pokémon – just throw a ball and cross your fingers.
- Trainer and Gym Battles – In the main series games, four attacks can be learned by a Pokémon at one time. If the player meets an in-game character or a real player via wifi, they take turns attacking each other’s Pokémon. For gym battles, the same thing goes. There are eight gym battles in each game though and are sequenced according to a story. In Pokémon GO, there are no trainer battles but there are gym battles. For gym battles, trainers attack by just tapping and holding on the screen.
- Leveling Up and Evolution – In the main series games, Pokémon level up and evolve when they earn experience. Experience is gathered by defeating other Pokémon. Once a Pokémon levels up, its stats become stronger and either of these two things can happen: learn a new move or evolve. In Pokémon GO, there is no levelling up. Yes, there is an option to power up your Pokémon but there’s not much at stake when you power up. For evolution, this is done through candies and not experience.
When news broke out the release of Pokémon GO, this news spread like wildfire. The game rose to immense popularity. In fact, it became the most downloaded app in iOS for 2016 despite it being available only at the second half of the year. Also, less than 24 hours after its July release in the US, New Zealand, and Australia, it topped the iOS download charts.
(Photo courtesy of: http://www.alexbamin3d.com/2016/08/sm-supermalls-hosts-its-first.html)
In the Philippines, Pokémon GO also became viral. A huge number of people downloaded the mobile app. A few days after its initial release, players were holding lure parties (the gathering of players at an area near a Poké Stop and place lures so that there is a higher chance of Pokémon appearing benefiting anyone near that Poké Stop). These built a community of Pokémon Go players within a local area. The rise of Pokémon Go was also taken advantage by commercial enterprises such as shopping malls. Shopping malls hold their own lure parties in order to drive traffic to their mall. Some restaurants have their customers show a certain Pokémon in order to get freebies. Also, some brands use Pokémon GO inspirations in their marketing collaterals. In the traditional media scene, a scene in Vice Ganda’s movie “The Super Parental Guardians” was inspired by an aspect of Pokémon GO’s game play. Additionally, there even are published books regarding tips for Pokémon GO players. With these effects caused by the virality of the mobile app, there is no denying that Pokémon GO is embedded in today’s pop culture.
What Goes Up…
Virality of the mobile game spread through social media and the Internet, in general. Without these, Pokémon GO may not have reached its “most downloaded iOS app in 2016” distinction. With the spread of news on its release over the Internet, the app became relevant. In addition to the Internet and social media, push notifications from telecommunications networks play a part in making the app relevant. Through broadcasting their promos, users are enticed to register and play the game. In terms of its success, here are some reasons why I believe it was able to reach this number of users, particularly in a Philippine context:
- Social Media – As I have mentioned earlier, social media and the Internet made the news relevant. Due to the highly interactive nature of social media and the Internet, people can access and share information to their peers at an instant. Dissemination of real-time information is made much, much easier and efficient through these new media. News on Pokémon GO spread through social media, whether or not you know what Pokémon is in the first place. This is contrary to main series games which have a more targeted approach in spreading news. When Pokémon GO was still new, there won’t be any day when you won’t see any post related to Pokémon GO in your news feed. People are posting questions where they can find a Clefairy, screenshot that they already have a Clefairy, or a GIF that they are about to evolve a Clefairy.
- Fandom – Since the game is a themed game, it attracts the fans of this certain theme – in this case, the fans of the Pokémon franchise. Pokémon fans are obviously the target of this mobile game. Given the Philippines’ strong anime and gaming fandom, there sure are dedicated groups or individuals which have a bias towards anything related to Pokémon. In addition to this, Pokémon GO establishes new groups or communities. Through lure parties, players can interact in real life which is not possible as of the moment in the game.
- Culture – Filipinos generally have an open mindset into trying new things. Once a new trend kicks in, Filipinos most of the time try this trend. If wearing headbands that resemble cat ears are a thing, people join this trend. If visiting a certain museum and taking artsy photos is a thing, people join this trend. Kung anong uso, makikiuso (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing). This same thing also holds true for Pokémon GO. Since a lot of people are playing Pokémon GO, they’ll also play the game. If they see a video of Pia Wurtzbach playing Pokémon GO, they’ll also play the game. Even if they don’t know who Pikachu is, they’ll still play the game because it’s in.
(Photo courtesy of: http://www.rappler.com/technology/news/142123-pokemon-go-philippines-now-available)
…Must Come Down
Unfortunately for Pokémon GO, its flame died out. It may have received millions of downloads, but the loyal players that remained is only a few percentage of this. After more or less a month, there no longer is a hype for the mobile app. There only are a few people sharing posts regarding them playing the game. The number of news articles on Pokémon GO also diminished. In terms of the diminished app, the same three factors which contributed to its success led to its downfall:
- Social Media – As mentioned, social media and the Internet make the dissemination of information faster and much more efficient. However, not only positive news can be spread over the Internet. News reports on the danger of playing Pokémon GO also spread over the Web. This includes accidents and theft. Also, articles on why the game is a “bad” game are also shared via the Internet. This influences users into thinking that the game itself is bad and eventually uninstalls the app on their mobile phones.
- Fandom – Pokémon game purists may argue that Pokémon GO is not a real Pokémon game due to its game play. Two key elements are missing in Pokémon GO compared to the main games: strategy and bond. In the main series games, players think on what four attacks of their Pokémon are, what the series of attacks are, and who to level up first, among other things. Also, players are able to see their Pokémon grow. They train them in order to become better. They don’t let them faint. They treat them like real pets. This is not the case in Pokémon GO. Players do not strategize since the game itself is less challenging – attacks are pre-determined and catching Pokémon is purely luck. The only challenge is catching them all and can prove to be repetitive. There also is no bond between you and your Pokémon – your starter even is left as your weakest Pokémon compared to the main series where it is your main Pokémon.
- Culture – Kung anong uso, makikiuso. There is a huge chunk of those who played the game who are just “bandwagoners”. They do not really care about the game; they just play the game because it’s in. They do not really have the intention to play the game in the long run. They just need to feel that they are not being left out. Again, being “in” is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just that in this case, the game is quite repetitive and did not have any rewards for players to use the app for the long-run.
Having said these reasons on why the hype for the app declined, I still do not think that the game is dead. It might have dwindled in terms of audience but it is not dead. As long as Niantic still adds minor updates regularly and provide major updates from time to time, there still will be users playing the game. As long as these updates are reported by Internet websites, there still is a chance for previous users to play the game again. As long as they post their updates on their social media accounts which gained a lot of audience due to the hype during their release, there still is a chance for previous users to play the game again.
Globalization in Pokémon GO
In one of our lectures, Michael Curtin mentioned that “Globalization is best understood as an ensemble of scale-making endeavours that reach across spatially diverse spheres of human and institutional security.” In addition to this, Ulrika Olausson mentioned that global nature of media is defined in terms of geographic reach. Lastly, Mark Poster mentioned that globalization is aided by new media by overcoming almost all barriers. With these three points made by these scholars, I think that Pokémon GO is an app which bears issues on globalization. Here are some of the reasons why I say such:
(Photo courtesy of: http://nintendoeverything.com/rumor-pokemon-go-has-continent-exclusive-pokemon/)
For the most part, all countries have the same set of Pokémon available for players. This is an example of an endeavour (Pokémon availability) that reaches across spatially diverse spheres (geographic location). Making the same set of characters available for any player regardless of location just shows that the app is meant for multi-national use. However, the developer adds four characters which are available only in certain regions. For example, Kangaskhan, which is based off a kangaroo, is only available in Australia (which, coincidentally, is the land of kangaroos) while Mr. Mime is only in Europe (mimes, or pantomime, originate in Europe). This move by the developer adds a small geographic border to the app a bit similar to the inability to access Youtube videos in certain countries.
(Photo courtesy of: https://kantanmtblog.com/2016/07/25/is-pokemon-go-taking-over-the-world/)
The language in Pokémon GO can be changed according to your preferred language. Through GPS, the app will be able to detect where you are located and what language within their system is being sPokén in your country. This is crucial to an app’s success. It must be able to adapt to a language the users know. This allows the US-based app to penetrate nations which have a strong language. This is similar to the case of Spiderman 3’s success in India through subtitles written in their major languages.
I was reminded that in one of our lectures in another class, Armand Mattelart said that globalization and technology builds networks which facilitate local and global connectedness. This is a nod to what Mark Poster (and Marshall McLuhan in a much earlier period) said about overcoming barriers. Though Pokémon GO does not have an in-app messaging system yet, the app still manages to build online communities over social media websites. In the Philippines, there is a public group on Facebook named Pokémon GO Philippines. On a more international scale, Reddit has a discussion forum devoted for the app. Through these social media websites, people can communicate and discuss about a certain topic without the need to be physically present.
Although not yet in the game, the trading feature will potentially be another form of overcoming spatial barriers. Through this, two users even from different sides of the globe are able to trade their Pokémon via wifi. In the older versions of the main series games, trading is only possible via a link cable which means that there is a need for the two players to meet up.
(Photo courtesy of: http://facebook.com/PokemonGlobalNews)
Niantic just released its most important update since its initial release, the addition of new Pokémon. I believe that this is a step into gaining back a fraction of their first release users. They may not be able to get all since, as mentioned earlier, part of their initial users are just downloading for the sake of being in and not for playing in the long-run. As long as the developers continuously add in updates and utilize social media in spreading news regarding the updates, the app will not die.
In terms of globalization, Pokémon GO is a good example of an app which exhibits characteristics of globalization. This is due to three points: Exclusivity, Language, and Online Communities. The app succeeds in fostering globalization and localization since it is able to adapt to the user’s language but keep the content available for all. Should the developers add updates which facilitate in-game communication such as trading or battling, the app will continue to exhibit a key purpose of globalization – overcoming spatial and geographic barriers.