Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Pokemon Should be an MMO. On my iPhone.

This one doesn’t have anything at all to do with tabletop gaming. You have been warned.

I’m not the first person to suggest this. In fact, from what I hear, it’s some sort of wagon. With a band. There are a lot of Pokemon fans in the world, and a good chunk of those fans have grown up on the internet hoping that their favourite franchise would grow with them. And in some ways, it has. The graphics are better, the storylines actually bring the morality of Pokemon training into question, and gameplay has certainly grown more robust over the course of the last sixteen years. But that doesn’t really scratch the itch, here. What people really want is some Massively Multiplayer Pokemon love.

Now, Nintendo has come out pretty strongly against the idea, and I understand some of their reasoning. Pokemon was built on a mobile platform from the get-go. The key word there is “mobile,” they want to make playing Pokemon something of a social experience. You can’t capture all of the Pokemon in the world by yourself, you need to walk up and talk to people to get the trades you need, to get into battles with a real-life opponent. Nintendo has made a pretty solid name for itself in the mobile market with moves like that, and what they really don’t want to see is more people sitting in front of their computers playing games like World of Warcraft. When Nintendo talks about something being “social,” they don’t mean Facebook-style social. They mean classic social, actually-having-to-see-another-human-being social. Which is, honestly, something about which I’m totally in favour. The shirt I’m wearing right now says:

Click through to buy it!

for exactly that reason. I love it when people get together to play games, and that’s definitely something I’d want to further encourage, but I don’t think that keeping Pokemon from being an MMO is encouraging anything. It’s discouraging a style of play in which a solid number of people have expressed interest, and discouraging one style of play does not automatically encourage a different style of play. The people who want an MMO are still going to play an MMO, whether it’s the one you’re making money on or not.

Instead of keeping people from playing the game they’re begging you to make for them, it would seem to make better sense to make that game, and then reward the style of play you’d like to see more of. While it certainly won’t make everyone play the way you want them to play, it will encourage more people to throw their money at you, and to play the game the way you want them to. Provide bonuses to groups that are playing within proximity to one another. Give people a reason to battle face-to-face. Provide actual encouragement to players, and a solid portion of them will do what you’re encouraging them to do.

I think it behoves Nintendo to put together a game that does this, and I think it would make them a lot of money to do so. I also think they should make that game for iDevices and Android, for a few reasons.

The first is that these systems together cover an insanely large sector of people who own electronic gaming devices. I own one of each myself (an iPad and an Android phone), and I don’t actually know anyone in the 18-35 demographic that doesn’t own at least one. Moreover, nearly every iOS and Android device has a GPS system in it that would allow for rewards based on playing around other people who are playing the game. Also, having played some Final Fantasy III on my iPad now, I can really see where touch devices are going to be the best platform for rejuvenating classic games, and similar game play and graphics update (though, personal preference, I would look at cell shading as an alternative to polygons) would work beautifully for Pokemon.

I’m not saying anything new, here. Other people have said pretty much everything I’ve written. I’m just adding my voice to the chorus. If Nintendo put out a Pokemon MMO app on the app store and in Play, I know a number of people who would buy it and play it. I would buy it myself (and I’m an unrepentant app pirate; I would walk across the street, buy one of those stupid itunes cards, and buy this fucking game, just like I have for other apps I’m particularly psyched to see).


Better, though, would be a Free-to-Play model in which players pay for particularly awesome things. Master Balls, out-of-area pokemon, pokemon “pets” like the pikachu from Yellow, faster bikes, stronger repel, some weird power-ups… the list of cool things you could buy in a cash store for Pokemon is intense. Also, add-on apps like a pedometer that keeps track of your steps to power-up your pokemon or an ARG akin to Pokemon Snap that allows you to take pictures of pokemon you find around your house to add them to your pokedex. The possibilities (and the money) are endless.

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