The Pokémon Company are missing out on some serious money here.
For the past few days I've been playing the latest iteration of the Pokemon franchise in the mainline series, Pokémon Sword. I skipped it at launch hoping that maybe after almost a year, it would be much more enjoyable. I think I expected a bit too much though, since a lot of the complaints I have are the exact same ones people mentioned back at launch; it's your standard formula and it's an okay game, but it doesn't feel like the true next-gen Pokémon game we, or at the very least, I was expecting. It's come to that point now that the franchise is in serious need for an upgrade or reboot. You could also argue that The Pokémon Company wouldn't spend so much on such a high quality Pokémon game because "they love money too much" and it's too easy to sell the same game over and over with a new skin. However if they're willing to put some serious work in, they could actually find themselves making a lot money from one game for decades.
You might have heard the idea of a Pokémon MMO before. A lot of people are in favour of it while others honestly believe it would be the downfall of the franchise. While I can certainly see their point, it would really only mean the downfall of the main line series of games, because honestly they just wouldn't need to be made anymore. Let's dive deeper into the reason's why the franchise needs a Pokémon MMO more than ever, how it could work, and exactly how it could mean lots of money for The Pokémon Company.
The franchise itself has, admittedly, become complicated for both fans and the developer. The biggest concurrent issue is that you've got almost 900 total Pokémon as of this article to try and hunt down, and for any one person that is a huge effort. Yes, you could certainly buy every Pokémon game on the 3DS, transfer all your catches to Pokémon Bank, transfer THOSE to Pokémon Home, then of course catch all the Pokémon in Sword/Shield, but that's time consuming, costly and in all honesty rather boring given how the games are similarly structured. There's no denying for the most part in every mainline title you are doing the same thing with very little variety. You're a new protagonist, sent on a journey through your home region, you fight eight gym leaders (excluding Sun and Moon), you win the league and then either stop playing or try to complete your Pokédex.
Then there's the generational leaps the franchise has failed to take in recent years. What's strange is that it often seems the earlier games in the franchise, such as Gold/Silver, Ruby/Sapphire and Diamond/Pearl tried to add a variety of things to do to make it feel fresher than the last iteration, and they succeeded. But since then what Game Freak has tried to do with the franchise has almost always been lackluster to the wider audience. When it came to X and Y, most people gave Game Freak the benefit of the doubt over it since it was a transition from 2D to 3D gameplay. For Sun and Moon, again people gave that a pass as, at the very least, it tried to do something different than your run-of-the-mill "beat eight gym leaders". But when it came to Sword and Shield, boy did people start to see the reality: this was no leap, this was barely a hop. People expected more, especially with what we've already seen come to the Nintendo Switch such as Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey two years earlier moving their respective franchises forward in the right direction.
If you were somehow living under a rock when Pokémon Sword and Shield came out, here's a few of the reasons why many players were unhappy with them:
Dexit - The biggest reason was that, at launch, the game cut out half of the previous 800 Pokémon, one reason being of "time management" on how long it would take to animate all the Pokémon, though it was later found out that Game Freak reused a lot of old animations for Pokémon that made it in anyway.
Graphics - At launch, the game looked and almost felt like it was a 3DS game ported to the Nintendo Switch. There was ongoing rage at how a lot of the textures were blurry and even looked like Nintendo 64 graphics. What's strange is that Let's Go Pikachu/Eevee probably had some of the best graphics in a Pokémon game, yet somehow the next mainline game looked worse?
Sorely Lacking - While Sword and Shield are "fine", there's no denying the game just feels,,, hollow. You have cinematics in the game and personally I can't help think there was supposed to be voice acting in them; there's a real awkwardness to just reading text all the damn time in a mainline Pokémon game now. The gameplay feels very unchanged albeit with Dynamaxing which isn't that exciting after the third time doing it, the level progression has you breezing your way through almost every fight without a hitch, and going back to those animations: they feel so lifeless anyway.
Now you could argue that Sword and Shield has sold 17,000,000 copies as of 2020, so clearly Game Freak are doing something right. However just because a game sells doesn't mean they've done good; after all No Man's Sky sold like hotcakes and look what happened there. Eventually they brought it back but for a lot of people, there's no forgiveness, and with how much controversy has surrounded Sword and Shield? It would honestly be a wonder how many would come back for the next mainline game.
The idea of a Pokémon MMO has been on my mind for almost a decade now and I've waited a long time to put it into words, so here goes. As with any MMO, you're given the ability to create your character. First and foremost would actually be the server your character is on. This would be important as this would replace the aspect of there being two mainline titles like Sword and Shield each with differing Pokémon. You see similar to Pokémon GO, and honestly there will be a lot of similarities to the mobile game in this pitch, depending on what region you live in depends on what Pokémon appear, and the same would be the same for the MMO. This would then encourage players to trade and battle with their region exclusive Pokémon across servers.
One of the other big customisation options would be your starting zone. Similar to games like World of Warcraft where depending on your race would depend on where your character starts, in the Pokémon MMO you would actually get a starting choice of Kanto, Johto or Hoenn. This way you've got a variety of experiences to start off with, and once you've completed your starting region, you can then move onto other regions just like Ash does in the Pokémon anime. You'd probably be wondering then what would stop you from taking your really powerful Pokémon and breezing through the other regions? Level scaling. Where-ever you go, the Pokémon and trainers would be approximately the same level as you. What's more, it wouldn't exactly be your Pokémon that gain the levels, but your character. Your next thought probably then wonders to how on earth a Pokémon is meant to evolve or get stronger if it doesn't level up? In a way it does, just not traditionally as instead, it gains experience based on how much you use, play and train with it. The Pokémon can get stronger yes, just not to the point you're twenty levels higher than everyone else. There would be a cap to just how strong your Pokémon can get, again similar to how much CP your Pokémon can have based on your level in Pokémon GO.
But how exactly would YOU be levelling up? Well the same as any other MMO really: quests and other activities. You could go on quests to catch certain Pokémon for yourself or NPC's, you can encounter various classical villains and fight them off with rewards, you could help wild Pokémon in need of assistance, other NPC's in need of assistance, you can partake in dungeon-like experiences where you and a party have to fight through groups of Pokémon in order to reach the main boss at the end, you can partake in raids, again, similar to Pokémon GO/Sword and Shield, you can take on challenges which not only give you a neat achievement, but some bonuses to your levelling up experience. There's just a huge variety of ways to earn experience to level up your character. Essentially, what they get up to in the anime should be an extent to what you can get up to in the game.
As for the world itself, it's obviously going to need to be bigger than before to house all those millions of players. We're not talking just a few houses like in Pallet Town, we're talking Pokémon anime size. Each town can host a variety of different activities similar to past games, whether it be the Game Center, the Battle Tower, base building, or perhaps even new ideas. This means the gameplay would also need to be bigger and not your simple turn based combat. The best way to work around this would be to model it off of, say, the Ni No Kuni games, where you move your monster and choose what it does. I honestly don't know why Pokémon hasn't moved off of turn-based combat already and something like the way Ni No Kuni does things would be a great way to refresh the series. Actually, scratch that, it already has, just not in a mainline series, since the upcoming MOBA, Pokémon Unite, has you controlling your Pokémon in 5 v 5 battles where you actually have to be up close to a Pokémon to damage it.
Now with there being so much crammed into one online experience, the game may need to cut back in certain areas. Previously I mentioned how Sword and Shield severely lacks voice acting when it feels like it was meant to be in some of the cinematics. Here in the MMO, they could do just that where cinematic cutscenes that play after a major story event have voice acting just to give it some life, while the rest of it would be your standard text experience. If The Pokémon Company played their cards right, the first three regions could keep players busy for months to maybe even a couple of years if they slowly trickle out new content. This also brings me onto just how the game would stay afloat.
There's one obvious fact about any online experience: it costs money to run. There's absolutely no doubt in my mind that were a game on this scale be made, people would come flocking similar to how Pokemon GO initially was. Yes granted Pokémon GO isn't as popular now than it was at launch, but it still succeeds to make millions of dollars every month (heck maybe even per day?) for a free-to-play game and shows no signs of closing in the slightest. The MMO would be an opportunity to reach as many players as legally possible. I say legally because there's no chance you would ever see Pokémon on an Xbox or a Playstation (then again who knows? It's The Pokémon Company's property, not Nintendo's). However Nintendo Switch, Mobile and PC are all three the best viable options. The mobile and PC gaming market in Asian countries are incredibly huge, and although most people groaned at the idea of the Pokémon MOBA, there's no denying the game would do tremendously well in the Asian markets, so imagine a Pokémon MMO on mobile devices and PC's.
Now how the game is initially monetised is down to the publishers really. They could go down the World of Warcraft route where you buy the main game and then pay for a monthly subscription, or it could go free-to-play where it strips back a lot of the features unless you subscribe (perhaps the amount of Pokémon you can store or catch a day to name an example? Personally I wouldn't advise a free-to-play method but it's there). As for content updates, as you may know already Pokémon Sword and Shield has now begun releasing paid DLC for the Isle of Armor and the Crown Tundra for the first time ever. Similar to expansions, The Pokémon Company could release paid updates which grants access to the next region (e.g. the first would of course be Sinnoh, but perhaps not?). Making an MMO would essentially solve the problem of there being too many Pokémon across too many games. You'd start with the first 386 Pokémon, and then through expansion releases, the next set is given to the players, increasing the level cap and also throwing a new region players can either start or continue their adventure in. It would all be in this one game and would actually give the developers time to work on those animations they claimed they didn't have the time to work on. This would also give the developers plenty of time to come up with a new generation of Pokémon when they eventually run out of existing regions.
As many of us also already know, rather than video games having pay-to-win mechanics, most free-to-play games run off the idea of purchasing cosmetic items. This could of course be the case for your own characters, and I know there would be many people who would drop a few dollars here and there to look like the most stylish Pokémon trainer around in an MMO. If the developers really wanted to, you could also go back to customising what your Pokémon wears too. All of this would be completely optional but it would be there for those that want to buy it all up. The game could also host exclusive Pokémon Go Fest like events which cost money to participate in, but deal exclusive rewards. There's a tonne of ways the game can rake in the money to be justifiable to The Pokémon Company.
Obviously while such a game is being made, there may need to be some sacrifices. Most likely you wouldn't see a mainline Pokémon game until the MMO itself released in however many years it would take to make. There would be plenty of spin-off titles to keep people going though as clearly evidenced by the amount of mobile titles they keep chugging out for the franchise. Yes, what I'm talking about might seem like a reboot of the franchise, but it might just be the reboot the franchise truly needs.