pokemongohalloween2Kicking off today is Pokémon GO‘s first “event,” an attempt to lure back the 20 million-odd players who have dropped out of the game since its heyday a mere two months ago.

Why such a rapid bleed off, you may ask? Almost halving your game’s user base — from 50 million to 30 million — in such a short time is pretty dramatic. Not that 30 million is a number to be disdained (in its prime, Candy Crush had less than 7 million active users) — but it is a worrying trend for Niantic, the game’s developers, and Nintendo, whose stock value is greatly affected by the game’s popularity.


1. No More Tracking

In the game’s early days, the servers crashed almost constantly due to an unprecedented and unpredicted demand. And even though most of those difficulties have been resolved — not least because less players lightens the traffic load — the legacy of those early troubles remains in the loss of the tracking feature, which allowed hunters to play a (mostly) silent game of “Hotter and Colder” to chase down the monsters they needed. Websites quickly popped up to fill the void, tying Google Maps into the game’s code to find nests and pinpoint the spawning grounds of rare Pokémon. But for many, using those felt like cheating, and they continue to be summarily shut down by Niantic time and again, anyway.

(Users in San Francisco currently have access to an improved tracking feature, in a prolonged beta test that apparently has no fixed date for worldwide roll out.)

2. Annoying Updates

The most recent change to the game is a far lowered speed limit while playing, which means cyclists — who used to be able to incubate and hatch eggs on their daily commute, for example — had to slow down to unreasonable speeds to get the benefit of those kilometers traveled. Similarly, any passengers in a car or on a train who found their vehicle going more than 35 kms an hour found the game unplayable. Doubtless, this was an alteration intended to force players to walk, as was the game’s original aim. But taking away these simple workarounds has gone a long way to ending the participation of those casual players who were liable to play only when it was convenient to their lives. It’s hard to blame them.

3. Cell Phone Bills

Using a GPS-enabled game for hours at a time eats through monthly allowances like nobody’s business, and enough Pokémon GO players — or their parents — have been hit by hefty extra charges as a result of their game’s rampaging need for cellular data that restrictions or bans have, of necessity, been placed upon them. It’s hard to blame anyone for that.

4. Full Pokedexes

Many of the more dedicated players have already completed their Pokedexes, having caught, hatched or evolved all 143 pocket monsters currently available. (Even more, if they have been overseas and caught some of the country-specific little dudes.) What does one do then? Battle at Gyms? Collect dust and candy to power up ever-more unbeatable Pokémon? Sure, for some that will be sufficient incentive to play, but for those who were in it just to get enough Magikarp candy to evolve a Gyrados, once that’s done, they’re done.

5. Catching Them All is Hard

While some have gone to incredible lengths to catch the magic 143, others quickly realized that doing so was really more effort than it was worth to them. Whether it involved joining Facebook groups to get the latest on rare spawns, venturing into the wilds of suburbia to find said spawns, or — the horror! — scrolling through Reddit for any reason, was just a bridge too far for many players.

::Shudder:: Reddit.

6. Unbeatable Gyms

Taking a Gym for your team — Mystic (Blue), Valor (Red) and Instinct (Yellow) — and then placing a Pokémon there is the only way, aside from using real currency, that one can gain Pokecoins, which can then be used in the Store to purchase everything from more Pokeballs to Egg Incubators. But with some Gyms boasting multiple 3000+ CP Dragonites to be defeated — or even trained against, at your own team’s Gym — it is an increasingly difficult task.

7. The Weather

As temperatures drop in the Northern Hemisphere — home to an estimated 75% of the game’s active users — the will to wander around darkened parks attempting to catch illusory creatures cannot help but dwindle. Of course, it was winter when the game launched in the southern hemisphere, but even the coldest cities in even the most southern parts of Australia and New Zealand do not get the extreme blizzard conditions of, say, a Chicago or New York. Rarely is a video game affected by the barometer, but here we are.

spookypokemonThus, The Event. With Halloween fast approaching, Pokémon GO‘s spookiest critters are simply everywhere right now.  Gastly and his evolutions Haunter and Gengar are ubiquitous, as are Drowzee and his evolution, Hypno. Zubat and Golbat are also out in force, and you’ll find increased instances of Meowth (because people dress as cats at Halloween? Because witches have cats?) along with both Cubone and Marowak, because… eh. Who needs a reason?

Also, the candy! In a clever piece of synergistic thinking, someone at Niantic made the leap: Halloween…Halloween candy… we use candy… lets give people more candy! Double, in fact, for catching, hatching, trading or evolving, and walking with your buddy Pokémon nets you his candy at least 3x faster than normal. (Need a Dragonite, but haven’t ever found enough Dratinis? Now’s your chance!)

gastlyWill this unprecedented largesse get people back into the game? Oh, surely. Not only does it exploit the essential acquisitiveness of human nature that made the game such a hit in the first place, but also the double candy reward is a huge incentive for incubating as many eggs as possible… which means buying Incubators… which means buying Pokecoins. Not to mention, catching all of these tricky Pokémon — Gastly’s are slippery little suckers — will use up Razzberries, and Great Balls, and Ultra Balls, all of which will need to be replaced. And the cycle goes on. So yes, this will definitely work for Halloween. Whether it will be a sustainable renaissance past the five days of the event is anyone’s guess.

So, okay, sure, this is clearly a cynical and calculated bid to regain some lost ground and also maybe get the game’s daily revenue back up around its high benchmark of (a reliably estimated) US$10 million per day. But who cares? They’re giving away candy! For every eight Gastlys you catch, you’ll be able to evolve two — 1000 XP for nothing.

That is a trick and a treat right there.


About the author


Rachel Hyland is Editor-in-Chief of Geek Speak Magazine and, she is pretty sure, the one true queen of Fantastica, raised in obscurity to protect her from the dark lord Sinisterium. If you see her magic sword, get in touch via twitter: @rachyland or Instagram: @rachelseesdeadpeople. The fate of the many worlds may just depend upon it.