Ten Changes I Would Make to Improve Pokémon GO

Pokémon GO was quite the fad when it first came out in early July 2016, but its popularity peaked pretty soon afterwards - the numerous bugs and glitches, monotonous gameplay that made it difficult for all but the most hardcore players to be able to "catch them all," and lack of public responses from developer Niantic all helped to lessen interest in the app over time. For better or for worse, Niantic has gained a less-than-stellar reputation over the past year and a half for all of the problems that have plagued Pokémon GO.

But I'm not Niantic, and I've spent enough time on the app since launch day that I would not like to completely give up on it just yet. I would say the current iteration of Pokémon GO is better than it was back in July 2016, but there are still some major problems - some of which have been around since the beginning - that need to be addressed before I can call it "good, maybe even great." Of course, merely pointing out a problem does not help, so in this article, I will be making suggestions to help solve those issues. 

First, however, a couple notes to consider: Firstly, I will not claim these are original ideas. There are many good ideas and suggestions out there on the Internet, and there are more than these ten that I have seen and would agree with; the ideas I have listed here are those I feel most strongly about. Secondly, none of these are bug fixes or solutions to technical problems - I want to focus on the core gameplay, how the game in its current state was intended to run. With that said, here are ten simple-to-radical ways I would change the game to make it a better experience for everyone.

A screen many a player saw when attempting to play the game upon first release.

1. Give players a guaranteed PokéStop and/or Pokémon to catch every day

People living in rural areas that don't have PokéStops and have a low Pokémon spawning rate have been disadvantaged from the very beginning. After all, if neither items nor Pokémon can be easily obtained, then it's difficult to get anything done! It is understandable to an extent, since cellular data is difficult to use the further away you get from an urban center (not every phone carrier is going to have a perfect map that covers the entire country). But there needs to be a way to offset this for people who do live in those places.

In early November, extra rewards for catching a Pokemon and swiping at a PokeStop each day were added, rewarding players with extra experience points and items each day they do so, ending on the seventh consecutive day. A really interesting idea I came across that was inspired by this was to give each player a PokéStop they could set anywhere in the world they wanted to - likely, this would be the place the user lives or perhaps works at, and this PokéStop would appear only for that user. This PokéStop would guarantee that, if the user logs in every day, is guaranteed this PokéStop and a couple of items from it each day. Maybe to offset how obviously useful this would be for accumulating items, it would only be swipeable once per day, but it would really help those who have few options to earn items outside of driving miles to the nearest PokéStop or spending real money.

A guaranteed chance at catching a Pokémon could be helpful, too, although for rural players to be satisfied this would likely have to be something that isn't too common, so it wouldn't be a Pidgey or something just as disappointing to find. That way, it would help offset the lack of rare Pokémon that are found outside cities. Being able to find Pokémon far out from PokéStops can be difficult, however, which brings me to my next suggestion:

2. Filtering out specific Pokémon on the radar

Let's be real here - are Pidgey, Rattata, and Sentret really Pokémon you want to go out searching specifically for? Filtering these Pokémon out would help players find rarer Pokémon. Of course, it would be limited by the area you can see on the in-game map, but then having this option would allow you to tell if there are rarer Pokémon around.

3. Allow for switching between Nearby PokéStop Radar and Nearby Sightings Radar

Nearby Pokémon that aren't close to a PokéStop only show up on the radar when there are 3 Pokémon or less that are next to nearby PokéStops. (This is the one that shows the Pokémon next to a patch of grass.) Being able to switch between this and the PokéStop radar would really help those who aren't searching for Pokémon near those stops, because otherwise, how else would you know there might be Pokémon worth finding nearby without comprehensively searching the area (not something that is always possible)?

For that matter, PokéStop Radar should work with gyms as well, now that gyms themselves act as PokéStops.

Choosing between using these two Pokémon radars would be a neat feature to have.

4. Allow players to remove Pokémon from a gym after a certain time period

Sometimes a gym just isn't visited by anybody, and when it's left alone a Pokémon assigned to the gym can be stuck there for days, or even weeks. Perhaps after a week the Pokémon can be removed for a reduced or lack of coin reward, with the stipulation that the player cannot add a Pokémon back into the gym for a day or something to prevent abuse of this feature.

5. Make a Pokémon's Speed stat matter

Due to how the CP calculations work, Attack, Defense, and HP stats are the only ones that matter, with physical and special stats all combined. One and a half years later, I'm still not sure why such a system was needed (I think the Pokémon games have a fine way of counting stats), but it is what it is, and it would be difficult to alter the current formula in a way that it becomes more accurate while pleasing everybody. (Remember when the formula was changed?)

But the one statistic that has always been left out is Speed. Pokémon with a high Speed statistic don't see it reflected in their CP, making it seem lower compared to other Pokémon. For players who are unfamiliar with each Pokémon's statistics in the handheld games, this makes them seem inferior. 

Speed needs to be incorporated into the game. It is vital in a turn-based RPG like the main series Pokémon games are, but here in Pokémon GO where it is not the case, it needs an alternate use. I suggest factoring this into one of the following: how quickly the Pokémon goes through with an attack (decrease the downtime between attacking), allow for quicker dodging, or increase the charge meter higher with each attack. That way, Pokémon such as Electrode or Aerodactyl could be more useful than they currently are, and Pokémon that already have strong attacking stats such as Alakazam and Gengar could be used more frequently.

Or, of course, just factor it into the CP calculations already. Does CP even mean anything if it's based off Pokémon stats that are, other than HP, impossible to know without looking up online guides? Even the Pokémon games let you look at an individual Pokémon's statistics, and Pokémon level is already included in Pokémon Go (albeit hidden; the only way to tell is the semicircle bar and how many candies you need to power the Pokémon up), so why not go with this from the start?

6. Raids need to be accessible for everyone

A player like myself, at level 33 and a wide variety of Pokémon over 2000 CP, won't have much trouble with level 1 and level 2 raids. I can conceivably do some level 3 raids (I am still a little bitter over a Porygon raid that ended five seconds before it was supposed to, right when I was about to defeat it), but levels 4 and 5 are out of my reach, and, to my knowledge, out of the reach of anyone attempting to do them solo. 

This is meant to encourage people to do raids in groups, and in many cities there are such groups who are willing to go out and do raids, mainly for the rare Pokémon that cannot be caught in the wild otherwise. In theory, it's not a bad way to encourage cooperation and the sense of community among players. But there are problems with how it's currently implemented:

  • There are reports of players excluding others from raids they wouldn't be able to win otherwise. A couple of complaints I have read stated these were over the contribution and gym-based variables that factor into how many Premier Balls you earn at the end of the raid.
  • Some feel having two minutes to wait for people to join the raid is too long.
  • The strict time limit on raids can be the most difficult factor to overcome, not the chance the attacking party is wiped out.
  • Finding the more desirable Pokémon to raid can involve driving a significant distance just to get to the nearest gym.
  • There is no guarantee that you will be able to catch the Pokémon at the end of the raid, so to get that low-catch rate Suicune you might have to do the raids multiple times.
  • Well that Suicune isn't around right now, so does that mean it will come back eventually or is it just gone? What are Niantic's plans?

The worst problem, however, is that eventually people will get fatigued of the current system. Raids are getting increasingly difficult to organize for this reason, especially if an app slowly loses its playerbase and if raids are spread out enough that they are difficult to reach without the dreaded car. Since I live in a city with significant urban sprawl, this usually means a significant amount of driving around to get to a raid of interest unless I'm starting downtown. And if nobody else is doing raids, then the upper difficulty Pokémon and legendaries become impossible to obtain. To preempt this issue, I would scale the raids based on the number of people participating in them, and at a higher rate for higher difficulty. That way, the one person in a given area who is actively playing can take on legendaries by themselves. Increasing the in-battle time limit would also be a viable solution, as particularly for the level 3/4 raids the main issue for a veteran player is the time limit, not the party getting wiped out.

7. Make EX Raids a reward that has to be earned through consistent play

So I received an EX Raid Pass at the beginning of February. Going to the raid turned out to be a fun experience; a group in the city I live in organized a raid party for that time, and even got enough people on board that the raid was successfully done in waves (one for each team). In my group, there were at least 14 other people, and there was a lot of discussion back and forth between people.

That's how I believe Niantic envisioned raids to be like. However, in my previous point, I raised concerns about raids that still apply here. In addition to those issues, this time around the passes were still given out more or less randomly, both to players and the locations at which they were set. Before receiving the EX raid pass, I had only visited the gym where it was set a total of two times, meaning I had no more than a bronze medal from it. In addition, for me it was fairly simple to get to the gym; it only required a 15 minute drive or so. For some, however, neither was the case - some were given out to people who were too far away to access the location, some were given raids for gyms they had not visited in a long time, or maybe never visited at all! The one raid I did at the location of my EX Raid happened in November, a well 2 months before I was given the pass. Thankfully, it turns out that this was all because of a bug, but there were many a disgruntled player upon the release of the passes. I hope the most recent wave of EX passes solved those problems.

But rather than issue them out based on a lottery, wouldn't it be more fair to just simply reward people who play more often? I do not believe it is too Farfetch'd to just keep track of each player's activity over a certain period of time, and award the passes based on how much raiding they have accumulated over that period, or just give them to everyone who has a silver/gold badge from a particular gym and has visited it within the past month. Thus, this solution eliminates luck and makes raids and gym battles even more rewarding.

Raids are much more fun when you have other players to do them with.

8. Ecological Succession

Most Pokémon GO players don't get to travel large distances and to different sttes, provinces, countries, and continents very often. I can see the idea behind having regional Pokémon (although the placement of some of them, such as Relicanth, makes it basically inaccessible for almost everyone unless they vacation to a specific location), but I believe that Pokémon distributions can be more dynamic and changing over time. The introduction of weather has definitely improved on this idea, but I would like to see some gradual, seasonal changes. For example, during a colder time of the year, spawn more ice-type Pokémon than usual, while during a warmer time, spawn more fire-types. You could have some season-exclusive Pokémon - those that only appear during specific times of the year - which might be slightly annoying, but helps make the world seem a bit more real.

The main point I want to get across is that with the increasing number of Pokémon in the game, a bit of turnover would be helpful for retaining players and making them feel more able to "catch 'em all." The game gets very stale if only the same ten species of Pokémon appear in the area one lives in. Sure, some of the Pokémon endemic to my location are extremely rare or absent in other locations (for me, Treecko is a good example), but perhaps it would be refreshing to see that Treecko become Mudkip after a few months.

9. Remove the speed limit until the game stops blanking you out in situations where you shouldn't be

While I did mention I wasn't going to touch on bugs, this is one that directly harms players more than it should. I can understand putting in cautionary warnings and asking people to not drive cars while playing, but it's excessive to block all gameplay just because someone might be traveling above the speed limit. Moreover, it applies in situations where it shouldn't, such as GPS drift (a very common occurrence if you're inside a building), running, or seemingly at random. Therefore, I believe this feature is currently not sufficient for its purpose. It would be better off increased or completely removed until a better method of incorporating a speed limit is found (or, alternatively, it never returns).

10. Trading and battling with other players

The obvious ones. Ultimately, Pokémon GO is about getting out and exploring, but it's also been a great way for some to socialize and meet new people. Adding these capabilities would further this end in a way that raids could never hope to achieve. Maybe add a small stardust, experience, or candy reward to people who trade and battle with others to incentivize it. Regardless of the details, such an addition would increase longevity of the app, allowing for more interaction and activity. 

Niantic has repeatedly said that these are features to be added. It's one and a half years later, and it's still not here. Why is this the case? Is it really that difficult to implement? If Niantic cannot deliver on promises made, or improve on communicating plans, updates, and responding to feedback, then the future of Pokémon Go might be grim indeed, and I would be worried for anyone looking forward to the Harry Potter AR game they are developing.

Are these ideas good, bad, ineffective, on the right track, or anything else? Feel free to leave a comment and other ideas you have for Pokémon GO below!



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