Earlier today, Nintendo released a trailer for Pokemon Go, a mobile game being developed by Niantic, Inc for iOS and Android platforms. The trailer features people exploring the real world, capturing CG Pokemon, doing battle with other players, and teaming up to take on a raid-boss style Mewtwo. I have to admit that even though I recognize all of the familiar visual rhetoric of techno-utopian advertising here, this trailer is endearing as hell.
At the same time, I can't help but think that Nintendo is setting fans up for some light disappointment. We've seen CG-Pokemon-in-Real-World-Environments before: A few years ago, the Google Maps team released a similar trailer as a April Fools Day prank. And just like that prank, I have my doubts that Pokemon Go is going to offer anything like the Augmented Reality glory depicted throughout this video. In fact, the last few moments of the trailer show off what you should actually expect: Polygonal Pokemon standing in polygonal fields, waiting to be captured.
But that's not to say that there's nothing to look forward to here. Niantic, Inc. (formerly the Google owned Niantic Labs) has found a ton of success with the geo-locating, sci-fi ARG-meets-MMO Ingress over the past few years. Ingress players use their phones to battle over local landmarks and struggle with each other for resources, all via an app that taps (and feeds) into Google Maps data. While many other games have tried to edge it out, Ingress has remained pretty dominant. I can so easily see this model applied to Pokemon, too: Your phone buzzes to let you know there's a nearby Electabuzz, but you skip it because, really, fuck Electabuzz. And besides you already caught a dope Jolteon on your way home from work last night.
I've tried to get into a couple of these games over the last few years, but because I lived in a small, Canadian city, there was never really the playerbase to make it work. Here in New York, I'm having the opposite problem: The Ingress fans are a little too intense for me. Maybe Pokemon will inspire exactly the right blend of community and competition to hook me.
Pokemon Go is going to be released alongside a watch-sized device called a Pokemon GO Plus, which Nintendo explains:
...will enable Pokémon GO players to enjoy the game even when they’re not looking at their smartphone. The device connects to the smartphone via Bluetooth and notifies the player about events in the game—such as the appearance of a Pokémon nearby—using an LED and vibration. In addition, players can catch Pokémon or perform other simple actions by pressing the button on the device.
Nintendo hasn't released a price for the Pokemon Go Plus, nor have they outlined any plans for micro-transactions. While Ingress doesn't have an in-game shop, I wouldn't count on Pokemon Go following suit. Ingress was valuable for Google because of the data its users provided, and because it served as an interesting, long term experiment. But now, with Niantic as an independent company and Nintendo looking to strengthen their financial situation, I'd expect some sort of monetization for Pokemon Go to be in the works. Hopefully it won't be too aggressive, because I'd hate to have something that seems so charming brought down by a bad pricing scheme.