The 6th of June 2016 was a beautiful day. Not only was it a day of happiness for people celebrating Eid, but it was also the day that Pokémon Go was officially launched worldwide. Millions of people downloaded the app onto their Android and iOS devices and set out on a journey to catch em all in order to be the very best.
In the beginning
I, myself (Banana27) was one of the said people who was literally over the moon about it. My journey, along with several hundreds of other players in Sri Lanka began that glorious day. For the next few days, which slowly became weeks, I played Pokémon Go like my life depended on it. I would play it in the bus during my route to work (much to the amazement and annoyance of the person next to me).
I even tagged my cousin in midnight adventures to Diyatha Uyana at 1AM on to capture a Dratini. We would go to massive meetups at Viharamahadevi Park on the weekends. It was confirmed; hundreds of Pokemon fans were engrossed in the game. From Facebook groups, to Whatsapp groups, it seemed everyone was gearing up to be the very best. It was the beginning of something beautiful.
And then, disaster struck
We could finally achieve our dream of catching Pokémon. Sound too good to be true? Well, it was. Barely 2 months since the game was launched, Niantic, the developers of Pokémon Go, announced that they would disable the game for countries that the game was not officially launched. This Geoblock would affect almost all countries in the South Asian pacific and since Sri Lanka fell into this category, we all awoke one morning to find out that all our in-game maps were empty; no gyms, no pokestops, no poke spawns, nothing.
Something troubling was brewing
This is where the first signs of trouble began. People resorted to unusual and somewhat illegal tactics to make sure they could play the game. They used a method known as GPS spoofing. A specialized app would fake the location of your smartphone so the game thinks that you’re actually in another location. So players would spoof to countries where the game was officially launched, such as the US and Australia, and proceed to level up and catch rare Pokémon. This, apart from being scorned by others, also meant that the spoofers could level up and catch more powerful Pokémon as opposed to the people who actually were waiting for the game, the effects of which would show up later on.
Months passed. In fact, 5 months after Niantic blocked Pokémon Go from Sri Lanka, a glimmer of hope appeared. I just visited the Play Store on my Android device and to my utter joy, Pokémon Go was once again available on the Google Play Store. I immediately downloaded it, and told all my fellow trainers that the game was indeed once again afoot. Everything was as we remembered it. No data had been erased (thankfully). But as happy as we all were, there was more trouble brewing.
People didn’t want to catch em all
Remember those spoofers I mentioned? Well, now that the game was officially available in Sri Lanka, this meant they could now reap the benefits of their (hard) work. What do I mean by this? Well if you were a Pokémon Go player and you had a look at all the Gyms once the game became available, you would have noticed that they all had trainers with very high levels and equally powerful Pokémon to boot.
Given the timing of when the game was disabled for Sri Lanka, it was near impossible for anyone who was only in Sri Lanka to get Pokémon of this level. One look at the Pokémon Go Sri Lanka page would have given you all the information you needed to know. Players were sharing screenshots of Pokémon that they had “apparently” caught along with screenshots of players holding down gyms.
The Mystery of the recaptured Gyms
Once the game was officially available for Sri Lanka, there was a new phenomenon. Gyms that were just captured by one team, would almost immediately be captured by another team, despite the fact that there was no one in the immediate vicinity. I, myself bore witness to this as I actually went to the Pokémon Gym down my road (the Dehiwala public library) in the wee hours of the morning and captured it. No sooner than I had placed a Pokémon there, that gym was under attack from 4 other players and within a matter of minutes, I lost control of the gym. The plot twist here being that there was no one in the area at that time. So how did they do it? The answer once again is GPS spoofing.
Following the official re-launch of Pokemon Go in Sri Lanka, the interest I had in the game was once again rekindled but slowly met with contempt due to the spoofing going on. No longer would I take part in gym battles or massive pokehunts. No more would I walk for kilometers on end to hatch Pokémon eggs.
Taking all this into account, it was just a matter of time before the game started to die in Sri Lanka. None of us wanted to admit it or face the harsh reality. It was already on the decline in most of the other countries and the fact of the matter remained that the hype for Pokémon Go in Sri Lanka was slowly dying out as well.
Why did people stop playing Pokemon Go?
The first few days since the official launch saw at least 5-6 posts in local Pokemon Go Facebook communities and players sharing their stories of how they managed to catch certain Pokemon. It made us feel alive because we were living our childhood dreams. Despite the initial large player base for Pokemon Go, there were a number of reasons the game was losing players in Sri Lanka. You could see it happening on social media as well. But was the main reason for players to lose interest in the game, despite having played it for so long?
I already spoke about how a majority of the player base who actually loved Pokémon reduced and was replaced by a number of spoofers who wanted all the glory for themselves in capturing gyms and rare Pokémon. According to Pokémon Go player ScarletWitch912, the Pokémon Gyms in the Kandy area were filled up with very powerful Pokémon. Pokémon that would under normal conditions would not be so powerful
In retaliation, players would also spoof to these gyms to try and reclaim what was lost. A few of my friends were involved in this as well as a last resort to fight fire with fire. All you had to do was send the GPS coordinates of the Gym or a screenshot of the location and they would spoof to that location almost immediately and begin their attack on the gym. As an example, the Dehiwala Library which is a Gym, changed hands 7 times during a single night.
All aboard the hype train
When Pokémon Go was launched, there were two types of people. The first were long-time fans of both the anime and the games who were eagerly waiting for the release of Pokémon Go. The others were those who didn’t even know what Pokémon was, and were just playing the game because their friends were playing it.
While this meant a substantial increase in the Sri Lankan player base, once the Geo Block hit and the game was disabled, most of those aboard the hype train grew tired of waiting and simply gave up playing the game. This essentially halved the player base leaving only those who knew and loved Pokémon behind.
Glitches in the game
Glitches in games are common. For example, if you encountered a Pokémon that you hadn’t seen before, there was a glitch that the Pokémon would just disappear before you could catch it with an “Error” message pooping up. There was also a glitch where when thrown, a pokeball would simply freeze and the game would hang.
This meant that any Pokémon who you encountered at that point, would not have been caught. Other glitches were the game not tracking your distance properly so egg hatching was quite a tedious task and the game simply closing. This was especially annoying during a gym battle or a rare wild Pokémon encounter. While Niantic do fix their bugs rigorously, it just makes things frustrating for players at times. This was reminiscent in the recently held Chicago Pokémon Go Fest as well.
According to Pokémon Go player Dilpickles28, their view is that it’s difficult to organize and communicate through the app. Legendary raids, for example need quite a bit of coordination. You will have to constantly switch between other apps such as messaging apps or even call people to see if they’re available to battle the raid boss. If all of that can be done through the app, it would be so convenient.
For example, I tried to take on a Gym by myself and found that it was a tad too difficult. I tried calling my friends for backup but then I realized I was out of credit. Constant app switching would drain battery as well. Overall, coordinating meetups and gym battles was tough work indeed and sometimes not worth the effort.
It eats up resources faster than a hungry Snorlax
The app is very power and resource hungry. This means the phone heats up quite a lot and affects the battery life of your device severely. Most players (myself included) turn off the AR camera in-game as it drains battery even faster. Most people who play Pokemon Go in Sri Lanka don’t’ exactly have flagship smartphones, but rather, go for the budget friendly option. This means that the game would not run properly, or just freeze and not work at all. This in turn meant that a portion of the player base would simply not play the game as their phones couldn’t handle it.
Take for example, the scenario of Pokémon Go player Bugzy1995. A huge Pokémon fan since his childhood, he regretted not being able to play the original Gameboy versions of Pokémon and jumped at the opportunity to play Pokémon Go. Due to the sheer resources needed to play Pokémon Go, he stopped playing the game for a while and actually bought a new smartphone just to play the game.
Pokémon Go player thev8ghost, had lost interest in the game because it’s repetitive and because of the fact that there’s no new content. In fact, I agree with him on it as well. My friend Mazin (maze2475) too stopped playing Pokémon Go as he felt that the game was “boring and lacked new content”. A major Overwatch fan, he went on to compare Pokémon Go to Overwatch stating that Overwatch does their fair share to keep players engaged by bringing in new characters, maps, game modes and other content on a regular basis, whereas Pokémon Go added nothing of that nature.
In fact, Generation 2 Pokémon took an entire year to make an appearance in the game. Sure a few months ago, Niantic updated the game again, bringing an entirely new gym battling system, Pokémon appraisal, avatar customizability, new items and berries and of course, more Pokémon. This sparked my interest and I began to play the game again. While catching new Pokémon was fun, it wasn’t as fun as the game was originally launched. Something had changed.
True enough, gym battles were more fun now (mainly because you could only have one of each Pokémon, so you no longer had a level 10 gym consisting of only Snorlaxs or Chanceys). The fact that we still didn’t have PvP or trading was still a letdown for me, and my fellow die-hard Pokémon friends felt the same way.
Niantic tried to revive the game
In an attempt to bring together players, Niantic launched a new gym battling system with specialized Raid events where Pokémon of very high CP (combat points) would be at various Gyms. Only by joining forces, could these Pokémon be defeated. If the Pokémon was defeated, the players had a chance to each catch that Pokémon. That event escalated to a whole new level when Niantic introduced Legendary Pokémon to the mix. Thus far Articuno, Lugia and Moltres and Zapdos (in order) have been released. For a moment, it appeared that trainers were putting aside their differences in teams and joining forces to defeat these Pokémon to stand a chance to catch a legendary Pokémon.
Within the first few days of the event, social media and Whatsapp groups related to Pokémon Go were a flurry with news related to sightings of these legendary Pokémon and people teamed up all over Colombo and indeed all over the country to take part in these events.
Sadly though, this too is losing its appeal. Perhaps it’s just that the legendary Pokémon are too strong, or perhaps that the gyms that these Pokémon spawn are too far away for players to travel to, or that they have no one close by to team up with.
Despite this, there are still people who play Pokemon Go
Despite all these however, there are still players like Sachitho who still grind on through catching Pokémon, battling gyms and taking on legendary raids just because of his pure love for the game. He’s not alone. In fact, there are still die hard players who meet up over the weekend to go poke-hunting or to take part in Legendary raids or to capture gyms in the area. Pokémon Go player nurangomez1212 says that the game has helped him meet a lot of new friends and that he wants to catch as many Pokémon as he can, including legendary ones. A few of the players have almost reached the maximum level in Pokemon Go which is level 40. A feat by no means easy to achieve. This goes on to show the level of dedication and love they have for the game.
I for one, remain a faithful player of the game as and when time permits me. But I can’t help admit that things are not the same as they were before, and that indeed is a shame. I feel that this should also be an eye opener to App developers as well. When launched, Pokemon Go was all the rage and everyone was excited about it. But after a point, you lose interest because there;s simply nothing new happening.
This is a good lesson for anyone building apps today. If you want to retain your customer base and get new users, you must give them a reason to play. Take Overwatch as an example. Despite the core mechanics being the same, the fact that there’s new content being added almost every week is what keeps people coming back for more. This, i feel, is the most important factor, if your app is to be successful.