Apple recently held its annual App and Game awards, recognising the 15 apps and games that were “helpful” in 2020. While awarding hugely popular game Pokémon GO was an obvious choice, it was a surprise that it was recognised in the app section for ‘Reinventing Play’ instead of as a game.
For Product Manager, Matthew Slemon, that’s what he was most proud of because Pokémon GO is part lifestyle app and part fun game that can be played anywhere with anyone. It’s that aspect of being a game all about gathering in big groups outdoors that made partially reinventing Pokémon GO a challenge. You can also check out this website https://www.solutiontales.com/quiz/pokemon-quiz/ to learn how much you know about this amazing video game.
“It would have been really easy for us at the beginning of COVID to say ‘Pokémon GO as we know it is over, we’re going to move to old-school game design and we’ll break out the queues’ and, you know, all that stuff that we could have done,” Slemon said. “But we didn’t, because I think fundamentally Pokémon GO represents something to our players and to us that is different and special. So that’s what I’m most proud of.”
COVID didn’t just present the challenge of needing to change some of the core tenets of the game, including reducing egg hatch distance and allowing people to raid remotely, but everything that goes around the game, such as advertising and major events. Product marketing manager, Veronica Saron, had to throw out six months of work and start again.
“We had a Pokémon GO commercial that was slated for the summer, and we had to scrap the original concept. In less than six weeks we re-concepted and filmed the commercial in New Zealand, recording it remotely from LA, with teams all around the world,” Saron remembered. “It was a six-week timeline for something that is usually a six-month process, so this was unheard of, and we were able to do it in part because we asked a huge Pokémon GO fan to direct the commercial – Rian Johnson, who you may have heard of. He directed Star Wars and Knives Out.”
Being a $4 billion company with famous friends has its advantages, it seems.
For many people during lockdowns, Pokémon GO has provided an escape and encouragement to go outside, even when folks might have only been allowed out for one hour at a time. For Slemon, that’s been the most important aspect of the game for him in 2020.
“COVID has changed a little bit about what the game looks like, but the core values remain the same,” he said. “We do want Pokémon GO to be something that can motivate you to get up off the couch, even if it’s just for a little bit every day to get a breath of fresh air.”
It’s a sentiment that Saron shares as well.
“Our player base is extremely resilient. They turned to this game during any time when they wanted to feel better. It’s a great lifestyle for a lot of players, in spite of the pandemic,” she said. “I love that we found all these different creative ways to meet them where they are and that they’ve been as excited about it as we have.”
For the Niantic team, while the awards and accolades are nice, it’s being able to see the tangible difference their game has made to people’s lives that’s kept them motivated to keep working at and improving the game.
“What I’m most proud of for our game is the millions of trainers who played over the course of the Pokémon GO fest two-day weekend,” Saron said. “They walked on average 15 kilometres each, which is just incredible.”
Beyond exercise, though, it’s the connections people made in the game that matters most to Saron. “Of course, it would not be a Pokémon GO fest without a [marriage] proposal. At each of our in-person events, there is always a proposal, without fail, and I love it because we get to do our best to make those proposals special for these couples who are coming to the stage in the venue and they get to pop the question. It’s awesome.”
Unlike other years, when the team was able to facilitate these proposals in a grand scale at an event, this happened during the socially distanced GoFest, and in some ways that made it even more special and hopeful. That even without the pomp and circumstance and grandeur of a major event, these two people, who found each other through a game they both share, decided to make it official on a weekend that had significance to them and this game made hundreds, if not thousands, of kilometres away from where they live, by people they will never meet.
Those enjoying the new features and ways to play Pokémon GO without having to spend time with a bunch of strangers to do raids, rejoice! Slemon said that all the new features introduced for 2020 will be sticking around, even if modes of access to them may change in the future.
Plus, there’s a bunch of brand-new Pokémon from X & Y now available in the world, waiting to be caught. It’s never been a better time to get back into the game Apple says helped reinvent play in 2020.
Thanks to Matthew Slemon and Veronica Saron for their time.
Pokémon GO is free-to-play on mobile.