The Rise and Relative Fall of Pokémon Go at UCSB

Image Courtesy of Bago Games Flickr

Matthew Lee
Staff Writer

On July 6, Niantic released the highly anticipated Pokémon GO phone app for iPhone and Android devices. To many people, Pokémon GO brought back nostalgic vibes and memories from the popular Pokémon games which were popular in the 1990’s and 2000’s. The game affected many groups of people all around the world, as people were excited to step outside and discover Pokémon that lived in their neighborhoods, schools, and cities. At the University of California, Santa Barbara, Pokémon GO impacted the atmosphere and attitude of many people in the recent summer sessions, which led to some interesting stories.

Immediately after Pokémon GO went live, the streets of Isla Vista became congested with groups of people walking and biking around, searching for rare Pokémon in I.V. Even past 12 a.m., the night was occupied by students trekking to lure spots, routinely stopping to capture Pokémon. Fraternities, sororities, as well as landmarks on campus (especially those surrounding the Music Building) transformed into hotspots for people to socialize and share their Pokémon adventure with fellow strangers. One example of this was Greek Park, where dozens of students gathered nightly to take advantage of the double PokéStop, which allowed players to activate lures to double their chances of spotting a wild Pokémon.

Gyms were also locations of interest for players, as trainers biked to areas such as Campus Point, Storke Tower and multiple residence dorms in order to capture a Gym and claim glory and fame for their team. The rivalries that ensued between the three teams of Mystic, Valor and Instinct created community and competition, driving players to play more frequently in order to truly be the best. The three teams created Facebook pages in order to organize collaborative gym battling in order to fortify or dethrone popular strongholds, such as Embarcadero Hall. Being online also gave teams the advantage of notifying teammates of the location of rare and strong Pokémon. Players would often scope out for the rarest Pokémon and contact teammates on the group page for the benefit of the team.

Pokémon GO was so popular that Nintendo stocks apparently rose sharply, even though Nintendo technically did not own Pokémon GO, leading to an ironic plummet. Businesses took advantage of its popularity, advertising discounts for players and perks for certain team members. People got out of their way to travel to different parts of cities and states in order to capture new and exotic Pokémon. In I.V., students traveled by foot, bike, board and even car to places such as DP and Sands Beach in hopes of encountering wild Pokémon.

A few weeks into its launch, Pokémon GO’s Pokémon tracking system became glitched, making it near impossible to pinpoint the location of Pokémon with the app. Many people were frustrated and disappointed, posting potential Pokémon that slipped through their fingertips because of the sudden lack of tracking. This brought light to a third party website, Pokévision, which allowed players to seek out Pokémon from the comfort of a computer and helped people snatch up strong Pokémon that were difficult to find. As a result, some players chose to remain in their houses and regularly check Pokévision, only leaving if they identified a target Pokémon that caught their eye. Because of this, the streets became less packed with people, and you would see a horde of excited people in a specific spot if an extremely prized Pokémon appeared nearby on Pokévision.

However, Pokévision decided to shut down in August 2016 after they received a cease-and-desist order from the developers, who were outspoken in their opposition of 3rd-party influencers for Pokémon GO. With the official tracker still disabled by the same glitch, players were back in the same situation, with no reliable way to efficiently hunt for Pokémon.

Niantic did not respond well, as their PR and communications were extremely slow and unresponsive. Many players vented their frustration for the game, but still played. Others tried their hand in other, lesser known tracking sources and even used GPS-coordinate hacking, a method which allowed you to track longitudinal and latitudinal coordinates of rare Pokémon and teleport to their location. A good portion of people actually gave up on the game and put it down either for that moment or for eternity.

It was heartbreaking to witness the changes which unfolded in such a brief period of time, from Pokémon GO’s booming start to the fatal crash and burn. Pokémon GO definitely had the potential to be one of the most definitive games of this generation, if not the most definitive. The amount of potential in the content and player base of the game was extraordinary, and it’s safe to say everyone was disappointed to see the way it was handled.

The current state of Pokémon GO is still relatively healthy, as the app brings in a fair amount of regular users. Although there aren’t flocks of people flooding the streets of I.V. while playing Pokémon GO, you might be able to scout out a few dedicated players even today. However, it is definitely not as popular as it was in its short, but sweet glory days in the summer of 2016.