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Commentary

My wish list for the 'new' Pokemon Go

Gameplay hasn't improved much and more features are needed to keep the craze going

Each time I take out my smartphone to play Pokemon Go, an acquaintance or a friend nearby would exclaim: "You are still playing this?"

Sure, the location-based augmented reality mobile game is not as popular as when it was launched here last August. But most games peak in popularity before finding their niche with a group of core gamers who will continue to play them. Pokemon Go is no exception.

Since its peak of 28.5 million users worldwide last July 13, the number of daily active users has dropped and remains stable at around five million, according to a report by research firm comScore.

Pokemon Go still has 65 million monthly active users, or trainers in Pokemon-speak, worldwide, according to its developer, Niantic.

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Looking at the various Pokemon Go chat groups I subscribe to, I realised that the demographics of Pokemon Go users are really diverse. There are students, working mums and retirees all chatting about where to get evolution items (needed to evolve specific Pokemon), or which Pokestop to spin "good" eggs that hatch into rare Pokemon like Lapras or Snorlax.

Indeed, my father, who is in his late 60s, could barely operate his smartphone, but knows how to catch a virtual critter in Pokemon Go. And, recently, he even asked me to help him buy additional space so he can store more virtual critters and items in his account.

And that's how Niantic managed to earn US$950 million (S$1.3 billion) last year through these in-game micro-transactions with trainers, young and old.

With its first anniversary approaching this July, Pokemon Go needs some additions to keep trainers glued to the game.
With its first anniversary approaching this July, Pokemon Go needs some additions to keep trainers glued to the game. ST PHOTO: TREVOR TAN

But, despite so much earnings, it is rather infuriating that Niantic has not improved the title's gameplay significantly.

Apart from the introduction of second-generation Pokemon in February, the gameplay has remained largely unchanged, with trainers throwing Poke Balls at Pokemon.

With its first anniversary approaching this July, the game needs some additions to keep trainers interested. Here is my short wish list.

Pokemon Trading: This is probably the feature trainers want most. While it might spoil the catching mechanism of the game, it does allow trainers who do not get to travel to acquire region-exclusive Pokemon like Mr Mime or Kangaskhan.

PvP Mode: Another feature many trainers are looking forward to is the player-vs-player (PvP) combat mode. With this, you can battle one-to-one with your friends using your Pokemon to settle who has the more powerful one. Also, Pokemon Go fan website The Sliph Road has uncovered some mentions of raids while digging through the game's codes. I hope that means trainers can band together to go on raids to yield more rewards like special evolution items or even legendary Pokemon.

Legendary Pokemon: Yes, there are still no legendary Pokemon, like Zapdos, Celebi or Mewtwo, in the game. I hope they will be appearing soon. In fact, for legendary Pokemon, I hope that Niantic implements a battle system that lets one of your pocket monsters battle a legendary Pokemon before you can claim it as your own. This is far more interesting than just throwing a Poke Ball at it and hoping for the best.

More storage space: With future generations of Pokemon to be added, the 1,000 storage limit for items and Pokemon will become inadequate. I hope the storage limit will be increased to 2,000. If not, I will have to transfer many of my prized Pokemon.

My wish list is short, but realistic. And I think it will make the game far more interesting, increase the number of trainers and level of interest and get more trainers back in the game. For Niantic, it makes good business sense too.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 17, 2017, with the headline 'My wish list for the 'new' Pokemon Go'. Print Edition | Subscribe