Pokemon Go Players Will Keep Playing Because After 21 Years They Still Want to Catch Them All

Pokemon Go Players Will Keep Playing Because After 21 Years They Still Want to Catch Them All

Pokemon Go might have had some missteps, but it's still a Pokemon game.

It's been a year since Pokemon Go first came out on mobile devices and took the world by storm. Despite some high-profile missteps (which I'll get into in a bit) the community around Pokemon Go has kept strong, posting 65 million monthly active users in April 2017.

While it's not hard to figure out why Pokemon Go is so popular (because Pokemon is popular, duh), I was interested in finding out what keeps 65 million trainers going. While all the Pokemon Go players I talked to had an answer, talking to a lot them didn't give me the answer.

Pokemon Go Worldwide

Pokemon Go pitched fans a dream they've nurtured since the very first Pokemon games came out on the GameBoy, "what if you could catch Pokemon in real life?" To do this, Nintendo and the Pokemon Company partnered with Niantic, a San Francisco-based Augmented-Reality development company. Together, they expanded upon Niantic's previous AR game—and proof-of-concept project—Ingress, to create what eventually became Pokemon Go.

When Pokemon Go initially came out, it was lacking many of the features that were prominent in console Pokemon games like gym badges, PvP battles, and trading. However, Pokemon Go nailed arguably the most important feature of any Pokemon game: the ability to encounter and capture wild Pokemon out in the world. And the fact that the game's world was also the player's world, well that was the dream wasn't it?

A year in and players fought technical server issues at launch that threatened to derail the game's rollout, key features delayed until earlier this year, a serious crisis involving Pokemon Go cheaters and spoofers, and most recently, the Pokemon Go Fest.

Through it all, the Pokemon Go community continues to play and thrive, building large networks of players through Discord and Reddit where they can share tips, build alliances, and compete as Pokemon trainers would in the handheld games and anime. Pokemon Go, for all of its high-profile missteps, tapped into every Pokemon trainer's yearning to be a Pokemon Master.

Pokemon Go

To find out what makes Pokemon Go compelling after a whole year-and knowing everything we know about how the game works, or fails-I decided to ask the players directly. So I went to r/The SilphRoad—one of the more prominent online Pokemon Go communities—and asked a question: After a year, what keeps you coming back to Pokemon Go?

"Simple: Gotta catch em all[!]" wrote Reddit user SotheBee. When I pressed for a little more, they told me, "I have played the Pokemon series games for over 20 years now. One of the things I always have to do is complete the Pokedex... Basically, I love the challenge that is completing the full Pokedex and until I can do that in Pokemon go I probably will not stop playing!" Although they admit that they probably won't hop on a plane and travel the world for a Farfetch'd or something. "I will wait for events or trading," they said.

For a game with millions of players, there will of course be millions of reasons why they play. It doesn't help that the game also doesn't necessarily function the same for everyone. As a game dependent on your real world location, there has been considerable amount of attention paid to the rural vs urban debate in relation to Pokemon Go.

"I stopped playing as a suburban player pretty quickly," user thymeleaves told me. "[I] started playing again in early June when my wife and I moved to an urban city—It's been amazing! I love the events, the challenges of finding certain biomes, and strategizing." From there, Pokemon Go sprouted from an isolated experience for thymeleaves, into a connected one. "I've also come to love the social aspects of this game—The Silph Road, my local subreddit, and their respective discord groups."

Travel abroad with Pokemon Go

Discord being the voice chat app favored by gamers in recent years. A quick peak at the Silph Road Discord room shows channels dedicated to different regions of the world, catering to players on both a micro and macro level, helping strangers find nearby players to connect with, or a global chatroom to hang out. And when it's time to get back out into the world again, then some players will do just that.

A glimpse at the Silph Road Discord

"I like the social interaction and the wanting to explore new places. I've spun a PokeStop and looked up and noticed places, monuments, and art I've walked past all of my life," says user Satelitestars, who could have seen those globetrotting ads for Pokemon Go and taken them to heart. "I have played in St. Thomas and Mexico and recently collected a gym badge for a gym in Cozumel. I even have the famous mile marker 1 gym badge from Key West, Fl."

And while other users cite events as another main incentive to keep playing, Pokemon Go events seem to be the exciting payoffs for days of regular play. A western Europe-based player named EnemysKiller told me that they've been playing the game before the game even came out in their country. "The events keep me motivated to keep playing. In between, [Pokemon Go] can feel kind of dull, but I do my farming while I'm out and walking around anyways."

Niantic's recent update appears to have only improved the social aspects in-between major events. "Since the raids came out and I've met more local players, I don't care for the events as much anymore, but they are definitely the thing that gets me to actually drive to the next big city to play there actively." Although EnemysKiller adds at the end, "Then again, I haven't caught 'em all yet[.]"

Ultimately, despite talking to several different players, across regions, population density, and even continents, I haven't figured out if people play the game for its quality, or because it's a Pokemon game. The commenters clearly felt dissatisfied with some aspects of the game, whether it's the repetitive nature of the combat, or slow updates, but ultimately still find reason to come back. And Niantic, despite ignoring a request to comment for the piece, is deeply involved with the community, tackling the spoofing epidemic with its latest gym update.

Pokemon Go Anniversary

"240 (as of right now) different Pokemon to collect, plus variants in gender, IVs, and shininess... The nostalgia many 20+ year olds feel for the game has been huge too," says vikinghockey10. And maybe that's just it. The quest to become a Pokemon Master and catch the infinite amount of Pokemon is a pact we all made in our childhoods, and Pokemon Go won't lose steam any time soon as long as there are players who want to catch them all.

Sometimes we include links to online retail stores. If you click on one and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. See our terms & conditions.

Matt Kim

News Editor

Matt Kim is a former freelance writer who's covered video games and digital media. He likes video games as spectacle and is easily distracted by bright lights or clever bits of dialogue. He also once wrote about personal finance, but that's neither here nor there.

Read this next

Pokemon Go’s Upcoming Halloween Event Does Even More to Taunt Poor Mimikyu

Niantic heard you like Pikachu, so here's a Pikachu dressed as Mimikyu who's dressed as Pikachu.

Pokemon Go Players Will Soon Be Able to Nominate and Evaluate Their Local Stops With a New Tool

Niantic's Wayfarer looks to curate your local PokeStop offerings.

New Team Rocket Admins are Preparing to Make Trouble in Pokemon Go

Cliff is evil, but his goatee game is on point.

Pokemon Go Eevee - Evolving Eevee into Glaceon and Leafeon

Evolving Eevee in Pokemon Go. How to evolve your Pokemon GO Eevee into one of its five forms: Vaporeon, Flareon, Jolteon, Espeon, or Umbreon in 2019.

Pokemon Go Gen 5 List: Gen 5 Release Date, Unova Region Detailed

Here are all of the Pokemon that will make their way to Pokemon Go as part of the Gen 5 update.


Why Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order Doesn't Have Fast Travel

Fallen Order dispenses with a modern convenience in the name of exploration.

Blizzard's Overwatch Team Says the Nintendo Switch Port Has Been "Eye-Opening"

Bringing the hero shooter to Switch took more than just a visual overhaul.

Monster of the Week: The Godfather of the Necromorph on Creating Dead Space's Famous Creature

Dead Space designer Ben Wanat tells us about the creation of the Necromorphs, one of last generation's most iconic monsters.

"How Big Is This Going to Get?“: The Future of Killer Queen And Its Console Counterpart

Talking with developers and a few members of Killer Queen's dedicated New York arcade scene about the new multiplayer spin-off.

More on Android

Blizzard Bans Collegiate Hearthstone Players for Six Months Over Protest Sign [Update]

American University's players have received some late judgment.

Fortnite XP Guide - How to Earn XP and Increase Your Level

This is our guide to the new Fortnite XP system, and how you can earn XP to increase your overall level.

Fortnite Medals List - How to Earn New Medals and Refresh the Punchcard

This is our full guide to the new Fortnite Medals system, including how to earn them, and times for the Punchcard refresh.

Fortnite 2 Map - All Named Locations and Landmarks on the New Fortnite Map

This is your overview to the Fortnite 2 map, including all the new landmarks and named locations on the Chapter 2 map.

League of Legends is Coming to Mobile and Consoles Next Year

League is going mobile over the next year with the slightly different League of Legends: Wild Rift.

Fortnite Upgrade Bench - How to Upgrade Your Weapons

Here's how to use the new Upgrade Benches in Fortnite, so you can upgrade your weapons.