Was spending money on Pokémon Go’s Kanto Day worth it? And how can Niantic improve in future?

Held the weekend before last, Pokémon Go Tour: Kanto was a special day for fans of the mobile game Pokémon Go. Celebrating Pokémon’s 25th anniversary, it came with the promise of being able to catch all 150 of the original Pokémon,  thanks to the recent addition of previously regional exclusive Pokémon. More than that, if you gave Niantic money, it would be even more unique and different with special perks, challenges to complete and more.

The first problem was that entry to this event was not only semi-paywalled, but that this paywall was roughly 15 times higher than normal. Where a standard Community Day typically costs £0.79, this was £11.99, similar to last year’s virtual Pokémon Go Fest – that’s a lot of money for a day’s entertainment for some. It also demanded that you play with friends if you had any chance of catching them all, and last I checked, Covid-19 is still a thing.

So the question on everyone’s lips running up to the day was simply whether it was worth Shellder-ing out the money when you couldn’t really spend the day walking around with your friends. Despite claims to the contrary, this was clearly designed with going out with your friends to hit up gyms and raid hard.

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What was Pokémon Go Tour: Kanto?

Kanto Day, as everyone called it, was split into three options: Green Version, Red Version and free-to-play (let’s call this Vanilla Version). Buying a ticket to the event allowed you to pick between the Green and Red, which granted you access to six version-exclusive Pokémon and a boosted shiny rate.

In order to catch all 150 of the original Pokémon, you needed to trade with a friend, just like you would with normal Pokémon games. However, while they increased the distance you can trade Pokémon from (so you don’t need to be physically next to the person), if you’re the only one in your area who plays, you’re Cubone-d.

Anyone who didn’t part with their hard-earned cash, therefore, had to trade Pokémon from both Red and Green, increasing the difficulty substantially. Not only did you need to have a friend within 40km playing the game, but you needed two of them to both be paying to play, and they both need to be on different versions.

I have two Pokémon Go accounts on two different phones. In the interest of Covid safety, I played Green on one account and Vanilla on the other. I’ve also asked friends and members of the Pokémon Go community for their thoughts and feelings on how the event panned out.

What did the premium version get you?

Red and Green version came with a couple of perks that are worth looking at separately. It was the only way to get an in-game checklist of all 150 Pokémon to check you’d caught ’em all (which put a real dampened on the vanilla experience), and there were version-exclusive Pokémon and boosted shinies, which seemed to be worth 10-20 shinies per premium account.

It also handed out collection challenges and rewards for each town that the event cycled through, special research quest lines to follow which led up to earning a shiny Ditto and shiny Mew after you completed a Shedinja-load of tasks – the latter wasn’t really meant to be completed on the day, while nabbing Ditto took me around 9.5 hours of play and helped spur me on to catching all 150.

Then there were a smattering of extra items, including 200 Poké Balls and three Remote Raid Passes. With the goal of completing eight raids through the event in order to catch ’em all, you also earnt a free Raid Pass every hour – not a remote pass that would let you tackle this element without heading outdoors. You get the feeling that, with Remote Raid Passes being a premium item, Niantic was leaning toward profits over social responsibility.

What did you get on Vanilla version?

Other than the bitter disappointment of not having a checklist, and lack of transparency about that in advance? Not much.

You could catch most of the Kanto 150 — something tells me that Game Freak didn’t like the slogan “Gotta catch most of ‘em” back when they released Red and Blue, though. There was also some thematic music that you’d probably turn back off after hearing a few nostalgic bars, and there was confetti raining in the world.

Right at the bottom of the barrel, we had some fan service from Niantic: certain members of the community were selected to be re-skinned Team Rocket grunts, getting in the way of your item collection and generally being a nuisance, battling you with their select team of three Pokémon. There was also a photobombing from community members who shared pictures on social media, which you either cared about or you hurriedly scrolled past it, wondering why you can see some randomer’s living room with an AR Magikarp in the window.

There was one last thing that everyone got after the day was over – everyone got a week to do a series of tasks separate to the Special Research tab, netting you some Mega Energy for your three Kanto starters’ evolved forms. Sure Mega Charizard, Blastoise and Venusaur weren’t in the original games, but it’s a nice nod to where we are more than two decades later.

So was Kanto Day worth the money?

That’s is the real question, isn’t it? I had a lot of fun playing Green — I’d nip around the local park each hour, catching what I could and watching things get ticked off along the way. As I did this on both accounts, I found I really didn’t put the same effort into the Vanilla version after seeing what Green offered me.

So, I turned to my sister and fellow TSA writer, Drea, for her opinion of Kanto Day, since she didn’t have any exposure to the premium version. She put it rather bluntly: “Overhyped mostly — it was the same as every other event they’ve done.”

While I spent 9.5 hours playing the game, excitedly collecting all 150, Drea saw some increased spawns that she wouldn’t normally see, but was left wondering where the excitement was all about as she didn’t have the means to tick things off the same way that I did.

For all the fun I was having, the experience was simply vapid for those who didn’t pay to play.

Sadly, I didn’t have the same amount of fun that I would have if I had been with friends. This isn’t on Niantic though — it would have been great fun to walk around Covent Garden doing raids like I used to, but that simply wasn’t an option because of the state of the world. Instead, I asked a community member — Owen — for his thoughts, after he spent Kanto Day walking the local parks with his child.

Owen told me he had a great time playing Green, while his child played Red. Together, they went catching, raiding and trading and both ended the day with all 150 Pokémon. It was great exercise, his child was extremely excited that they caught so many Mewtwo, and it’s probably something they will remember for years to come.

At best, you have the kind of event you’ll tell your grandkids about when they ask what you did during the whole Covid thing. At worst, you have a bored players who are deflated by the hype withering after a lack of transparency killed the day stone dead. And that’s before we look at where Niantic really screwed the Poochyena.

I’m somewhere in the middle — as much as it was great fun as a premium player, I feel for those who missed out due to the high price. If Niantic had been transparent from the start, they likely would have made more money and left everyone much happier with the event — a win–win in everyone’s books.

What else did Niantic get wrong?

Unfortunately, there are still a few issues we’ve not talked about yet.

First: server issues. If you have a day where you want everyone in your community to play for around nine hours, you should expect increased traffic. Quite a few players reported server issues here in the UK, which really could have been avoided – five years into the game’s life they should know what to expect.

Second: bugs. Niantic accidentally gave away thousands of free tickets to Vanilla players. Although there were some complaints from those who paid, the general sentiment in the community was that some people getting free stuff isn’t the end of the world. Let them have the free stuff and maybe they’ll appreciate it and pay for the next event.

Instead of doing the nice thing and calling it a free upgrade — similar to when you get bumped to first class on a flight — they locked affected players out of bits they hadn’t done yet. Players who did nothing wrong and got what looked like a free upgrade were then unceremoniously kicked back down to Vanilla.

Those who bought into the event are getting something extra as a bonus follow-up event for this hiccup, but again, the sentiment is that the company should have taken the more gracious approach in the first place.

Third: bannings. The bugs and server issues led to problems for those who played a little too much and travelled a little too far for Niantic to keep up. One Reddit user fell foul of the game’s cheat detection software, which accused them of spoofing their GPS, stating that if Niantic was penalising them after paying for the event, they’ll “just stop paying and playing”.

What does this mean for Pokémon Go moving forward?

Kanto Day was still a success, but there are things that Niantic need to re-evaluate if they want players to invest in the next event. Fundamentally, players will want to know if core features like a checklist is going to be hidden from vanilla players. Something so basic shouldn’t really be a paid feature, and turned the day from being something to take part in to feeling like an overhyped let down.

Niantic also needs to look out the window and realise that Covid-19 is still a thing. I can’t believe I’m having to explain this, but we are living in the middle of a major international health crisis. Saying that an event is doable without leaving the house is not the same as actively working to make an event fully playable from home. In particular, all the passes should have been Remote for the day.

And last, but not least, Niantic needs to treat the community better. If your system fails and gives away a freebie, you shouldn’t snatch it away again, if you tell people you’re going to make something playable from home, make it actually completable from home, and if you’re going to make a community celebration, make it feel like something for the whole community, not just those who can afford to pay.

Final thoughts

Pokémon Go’s Kanto Day was a great event, and a great day with the kids if you have them, but only if you paid for the privilege. Those who didn’t pay were met with a lacklustre and boring event — and if anything is death knell it’s boring your players.

I’d pay for an event of this nature in future, but I hope Niantic will look at what went wrong here, and work to make it better for the whole community, not just those who can afford to pay.

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