'Pokémon Go' Update: Why trading and player vs. player battles might not be enough

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opinion
Mic invites contributors and staff to offer commentary and context about news and timely issues.

There's a simple reason why Pokémon Go fans get so excited at the mere mention of new content and features — there simply isn't that much to do in Pokémon Go at the moment.

I tend to look at Pokémon Go as a massively multiplayer online game in the same genre as games like World of Warcraft — and some people far smarter than I am when it comes to gaming are saying the same thing. All MMOs share one huge and potentially crippling problem: How do you give the players enough to do? Niantic is staring down that issue in Pokémon Go, and the road map for the game as we know it may be nearing its end.

Pokémon Go updates: An obvious game plan that is about to be completed

We recently reported on an interview that John Hanke, CEO of Niantic and creator of Pokémon Go, gave to Waypoint. The chief takeaway is that Pokémon trading and head-to-head Pokémon battles are on the way. It turns out the only reason they took so long to arrive is that the game was far more successful than Niantic expected or was prepared to handle.

Niantic is finally getting to Pokémon trading, though it may not help many people complete their Pokédex. There are still region-locked Pokémon, along with super-rare Pokémon that don't spawn generously enough to get passed around. It will take a fundamental change in the spawn algorithms to make sure everyone has a fair chance to catch 'em all.

Pokémon Go updates: Face-to-face battles won't be enough unless they have consequence

The problem with battling in Pokémon Go right now is that it really doesn't matter: You can earn some stardust and coins for defending gyms, but the amounts are pittances compared to the rewards that endgame players need to build a proper stable of battlers.

Adding player battles will bring a few welcome changes to the game. For one, you won't have to hike to the nearest gym just to see some action — you'll also be able to challenge your friends directly for bragging rights.

Unfortunately, I have a feeling that these battles will face the same problem plaguing gyms: It's possible we could see the same five or six top endgame Pokémon — Dragonite, Lapras, Snorax, Vaporeon etc. — dominate player battles just like they do at gyms.

In that case, these new Pokémon battles would get boring fast. Hopefully, Niantic has some new and exciting rewards planned for face-to-face battling to keep people interested once the initial excitement wears off. 

Next, next steps for Pokémon Go

To be fair, the counterargument is that Niantic will do just fine playing strictly to the hardcore fans that are willing to deal with unfair systems and grinding for experience points. After all, plenty of MMOs have succeeded using a similar frustrating strategy.

But in his interview with Waypoint, Hanke clearly stated how huge he wants Pokémon Go to become. He can't accomplish those ambitions unless his game provides a steady stream of fresh content. At the moment, Niantic definitely isn't moving quickly enough to keep fans satisfied.

Pokemon trading and face-to-face battles may work for a while, but they're mostly variations on themes of what we're already doing. Niantic needs other content to fill the gap between releases of new generations of Pokemon. Without that fresh content and new mechanics, even the most ardent Pokémon Go players will drop off. If you're a hardcore fan of the game who's nevertheless gotten bored, you know precisely what I'm talking about.

More Pokémon Go guides, tips, tricks and updates

Check out Mic's guides on how to get stardust, how to determine how long it will take you to reach level 40, the kind of Pokémon you get from 10km eggs, how to create new PokéStops, how to maximize your chances of catching Pokémon and how PokéStops distribute Pokémon eggs. Also check out how to catch Gen 2 baby Pokémon, our analysis of post-balance update Chansey and Rhydon and everything you need to know about finding the long-awaited Pokémon Ditto.