There’s certainly a lot wrong with Pokémon GO. The extraordinarily popular mobile AR game has just celebrated its fifth birthday, five years during which it’s routinely brought in more than a billion dollars for creators Niantic. I’d like to imagine would be enough money for them to fix a bunch of stuff. But I’d also like them to, you know, stop fixing a bunch of stuff too. Most especially when it comes to catching Pokémon beaten in raids.
To put this all into context, in general POGO has three different approaches to letting players catch Pokémon.
1) There are those that are found in the wild, where you have to consider their Combat Power (CP) and feistiness when choosing which sort of Poké Ball from your collection, and which berries, to use when capturing them. Even then, combined with the quality of your throw (getting the balls in the ever-shrinking circle increases your catch chance), they can still burst out and may run away.
2) There are those you are given as rewards for finishing tasks and quests. These still have to be captured using your own Poké Balls, but they will never run away, and are likely much easier to catch.
3) There are those you can “rescue” from Team GO Rocket, the evil nemeses of the game who infect the poor blighters with purple shadowy badness. You beat the Rocket member in a Pokémon battle, then have the opportunity to rescue one of their monsters using a limited number of Premier Balls, usually somewhere between 8 and 15. Miss with all of them, and you don’t get to rescue the Pokémon—although it’s pretty difficult to do this badly.
Pokémon beaten in raids are based on the third model, except with a whole truckload of added unfairness.
I remember this being one of the most mystifying aspects when trying to learn the grimly impenetrable and barely explained game. I would win a raid, which in itself is an effort—you have to find one, be near it or use a third-party app to find them elsewhere in the world, be with enough other real-world players to be able to defeat the raid, and then succeed at taking down the Pokémon in a three-minute limit—and then fail to capture it after. What was I doing wrong? How was I messing up what seemed like the easy bit at the end?
It was only being told by other players that, “Oh, no, it’s fixed,” that I realized. And, well, after a year of playing I’m pretty much done with that.
It really came to a head for me during GO Fest 2021, during which—thanks to the woefully anticlimactic pretence of an appearance by Hoopa—a whole bunch of legendaries all appeared in raids on the same day. It was a great chance to catch those that haven’t reappeared since I started playing last August, and to attempt to grab some shinies of the rest. Just getting into the raids took some work, mostly because I was stuck in home isolation, so had to use Poke Genie queues to find my way into anything. Then each time it used a Remote Raid Pass, which were pretty generously given out in the event, but still can cost real-world money. Get into a raid (which is never simple, with people bailing last second so you don’t have enough players to beat the battle), spend the time battling it (read: tapping one circle for three minutes), and then go to capture it. And nope.
There are ways to increase your chances of catching raid Pokémon, which involve using the most powerful berries (ideally hard-won Golden Razz Berries). Then, you have to achieve “Excellent” spin throws—which is to say, timing your throw to land dead-center on the Pokémon while the circle is at its tiniest, all while spinning the ball before you throw it so as it curves out and back in, like ten-pin bowling. It’s no small feat! And [adjusts tie] I’m rather good at it. And it makes absolutely fuck all difference.
Three excellent spin throws in a row at a Dialga saw it jump out of the Premier Ball every single time. With 15 attempts at each, and a huge number of those being excellent or great spin throws, all with Golden Razz Berries, I was watching Legendary after Legendary leap out and run away. There was literally nothing else I could do better. I was playing the game as well as it can be played. And yet, I watched Pokémon after Pokémon escaping and dashing, wasting my time and money.
In the mainline Pokémon games, Legendaries have very low capture rates, and in some ways POGO is emulating that. But I don’t believe that justifies it, not least because there’s no way it can have cost you extra money to try in your favourite console/handheld version. It’s also fair to point out that the mobile game adds in a level of skill that isn’t there elsewhere. But you know, it’s also because Pokémon GO is very happy to diverge from the main series when it’s to their financial advantage.
So yes, of course, the eye-roll explanation is, “Well duh, Niantic makes money from this. How do you think they were getting that billion bucks?” And yet, while this is obviously true—and while there are a handful of other ways in which Pokémon GO treats players unfairly in the name of having them fork out cash for content—this one feels especially egregious and unnecessary.
We’re already likely exchanging coins for Remote Raid Passes. We’ve already gone to significant effort to even be able to find a raid that’s full enough to participate in. We’re already deeply involved at this point, and like hatching an egg or completing a challenge, the Pokémon captured at this point should be far fairer game.
Heck, I’d take an exchange. While players recently discovered that raid Pokémon get “easier” to capture with each ball thrown, scrap that nonsense, increase the capture rate significantly, but let the IVs of that pocket monster be affected by how many tries it took me? Have its CP drop slightly with each attempt? But when I reach the maximum level of input and skill the game lets me achieve, when I’ve used the rare berry and thrown the best possible throw, reward that! Because that would be decent.
Like I said, there’s a lot wrong with Pokémon GO—and by God I’d take being able to scroll through my friends list without it staggering and freezing up above this—but to me the raid capture fixing feels the most grim and obvious of all the game’s unpleasant aspects. It’d do a lot for the game’s reputation, and I feel fairly certain very little to its bottom line, if it made capturing raid Pokémon a fairer system.