Pokémon Go, a mobile game developed by The Pokémon Company and augmented reality (AR) specialist Niantic, has enjoyed a phenomenal reception. It has more daily active users than dating app Tinder - Twitter is in its sights - and has been installed on at least 5.6 per cent of Android devices in the US. Brisk adoption of the game and hopes that it will herald a crop of similar Nintendo games have sent the video game company's shares up more than a quarter in two days. But unless its creators fix the myriad glitches and bulk up the story and sense of progression, trainers are likely to start retiring.
Pokémon Go tasks players with grabbing their smartphones and physically visiting parks, monuments and places of interest to snag useful items and find, capture, train and battle more than 130 of the eponymous monsters. The game's AR technology is combined with Google Maps to allow users to see Pokémon in the real world, leading to funny photos on social media of people hurling their phones in an attempt to catch them. Its success has already spawned copycats, and rival offerings are bound to follow.
Just like the Nintendo Wii, Pokémon Go could help to combat the stigma around gaming as a sedentary, antisocial activity. A scroll through Twitter suggests aspiring Pokémon trainers are already meeting up and hunting in groups. While playing by the London Eye last night, a couple of players approached me to chat about the Pokémon gym there, which players can claim on behalf of their faction. I also spotted at least a dozen trainers in the nearby park after someone dropped a Lure Module, which attracts Pokémon to a specific location.
Pokémon Go has already sparked several controversies - always a risk whenever tens of thousands of people do anything. A 19-year-old in Wyoming stumbled upon a dead body while scouting for Water-type Pokémon. Armed robbers in Missouri used a Lure Module to ambush almost a dozen teenagers and snatch their possessions. And a resident of a former church in Massachusetts discovered his home had been designated as a Pokémon gym, and trainers were pulling up in their cars and congregating nearby.
Some of the game's teething problems have been technical. The hordes of eager trainers who downloaded the app overwhelmed Niantic's servers and forced the company to delay its international roll out. My version of the game regularly freezes after I throw a Poké Ball - used to capture Pokémon - or when a Pokémon egg is about to hatch. Moreover, PokeStops often don't work, the London Eye gym boss stubbornly refused to faint at zero health, and the world map frequently places me in the middle of the River Thames.
Pokémon Go's content is also lacking. Its introduction seems rushed and there's little guidance given about gyms. For instance, I had no idea that trainers could use six Pokémon to take over an enemy gym but only one Pokémon to reinforce the defences of a friendly gym.
The game is also unintuitive at points. Trainers usually open up their 'Items' menu and click on an item to use it, but Lure Modules require clicking on a PokéStop - a marker denoting a place of interest - then inserting them. It's also unclear what happens to a Pokémon egg if a trainer receives if when they're already carrying the maximum of nine. The option to ‘Transfer’ Pokémon back to Professor Willow – a vital way to earn Candy, which allows trainers to level up and evolve Pokémon - also went unexplained. And the developers have said that a trainer’s chances of catching a Pokémon are based on several factors - the curvature of their throw, the size of the circle around the creature - that aren't explained in the game.
Pokémon Go's explosive growth will be short-lived if the glitches aren’t fixed and the game remains confusing and unintuitive. Players shouldn't feel obligated to research the game in order to play it. The developers should also add more story, missions and a sense of progression; at level 11, I haven’t met another character since the introductory sequence, and taking over the same gyms time and again will get old fast. A simple improvement might be an Assassin’s Creed-style unlocking system: territories could change colour once you visit enough PokeStops, catch all the local Pokémon and control all the gyms in the area.
Pokémon Go has captured the imagination of tens and thousands of players. But if it doesn't up its game, it risks letting them escape.