Pokemon Masters Uses Struggle. It's Not Very Effective

Pokemon Masters Uses Struggle. It's Not Very Effective

The latest Pokemon mobile game is falling fast after a strong debut.

While Pokemon Masters shot out of the starting gate like a Rapidash, its earnings and popularity currently resemble a Slowpoke swimming through a vat of molasses. The free-to-play mobile Pokemon game has earned $33.3 million since its launch on August 29. By comparison, Pokemon Go earned $302 million in its first month.

Pokemon Masters' $33.3 million isn't the worst debut performance for a Pokemon app. The third highest-grossing Pokemon app, Pokemon Quest, brought in $7.6 million during its first month, according to SensorTower's report on Masters' profits. But Pokemon Masters' speedy burnout raises an eyebrow because its Gatcha elements are engineered to target PokeFans' nostalgia, and it's seemingly failing to do so.

Pokemon Masters revolves around spending hard currency (Gems, in this case) to recruit Gym leaders and Trainers to your cause: Fighting each other on an artificial island. But you don't fight traditional Pokemon Battles in Masters. Instead, battles are real-time three-versus-three throwdowns where each trainer uses one Pokemon. You can't battle other players (though you can team up with them in co-op play), and each Pokemon exhibits only one type weakness.

In hindsight, these changes might be too radical for a casual Pokemon fan who downloads Pokemon Masters on its name alone. If they're expecting a more traditional Pokemon experience, they're going to find themselves confused from the get-go. That would explain the game's rapid drop in popularity. Pokemon Go owes its phenomenal debut and continued popularity in part because it needs no explanation. You throw Poke Balls at Pokemon hanging out in the real world. Anyone can grasp that concept regardless if they're a veteran, or they haven't played a game since Red and Blue.

The ResetEra thread about Pokemon Masters' decline offers more insight on the fall from players who quickly lapsed. Complaints include a boring battle system, a lack of stuff to do once the story quest is completed, a predatory Gatcha system, and poor log-in loot.

Speaking personally, I log into Pokemon Masters once in a while, but not every day like I do with Pokemon Go. I quickly found myself irritated by the game's Trainer pulls, which almost unfailingly yield three-star Trainers no matter how many Gems I pour into the effort. I very occasionally get a four-star Trainer—usually for types I really don't need—and I've only pulled one five-star to date. (It was Karen and her Houndoom, bless them.)

Iris will totally be your PokePal! For a price. | The Pokemon Company/DeNA

I wouldn't have a problem with constantly pulling crummy Trainers, except three-star Trainers' levels max out very quickly, and adding more stars requires a cocktail of items that are hard to procure through normal gameplay. And I wouldn't even mind that, except Pokemon Masters' difficulty goes through frequent spikes.

Maybe it's a big ask for gatcha games to play fair, but it can happen. Fire Emblem Heroes is the definition of a mobile gatcha game, but it manages to hang on to a dedicated player base because it's not stingy. When I play, I'm frequently awarded five-star fighters and supplied with decent loot just for playing through the story campaigns.

It's probably not too late for Pokemon Masters. While DeNA can't easily change its weird battle system, it can easily take steps to make the game more accessible, more fun, and less exploitative. Are you playing? How are you holding up? If you're determined to keep at it, we have lots of great Pokemon Masters guides to help you out.

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Nadia Oxford

Staff Writer

Nadia has been writing about games for so long, only the wind and the rain (or the digital facsimiles thereof) remember her true name. She's written for Nerve, About.com, Gamepro, IGN, 1UP, PlayStation Official Magazine, and other sites and magazines that sling words about video games. She co-hosts the Axe of the Blood God podcast, where she mostly screams about Dragon Quest.

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