“Pokemon Go” will celebrate its second birthday on July 6, which means it’s been almost two years since that groundbreaking augmented-reality adventure game took over the world, and summoned millions of people to their local parks and playgrounds to catch Pidgeys and take over gyms. Culturally, it was the first true crossover hit Nintendo had created since the heights of the Wii, and now Niantic, the San Francisco studio behind the Pokemon Go, have to discover how the phenomenon grows up.
And so, on the last day of E3, a cadre of reporters were corralled into a vintage, gold-trimmed Los Angeles restaurant, and were presented the roadmap for 2018. As someone who dabbled with “Pokemon Go” during the hottest peaks of the mania and had since dropped off, it was immediately clear how much more room the game had to grow. For instance, one of the chief updates Niantic is implementing is a “friends list,” which is honestly something I thought “Pokemon Go” already had. You and your fellow trainers will create this Facebook-ish profiles and exchange “friend codes” with each other, (which should be familiar to anyone who’s ever networked on a Nintendo product before.) Once both players have accepted, you can expect the same infrastructure you get out of your Battle.net profile, or Steam dashboard. Your status and last in-game activity will be presented, as well as a “Persona”-like social link tally called “Friendship Level” – with thresholds between “Good Friend,” “Great Friend,” “Ultra Friend,” and “Best Friend” – which you can boost through fighting in gyms together, or giving gifts to each other.
That Friendship Level is important, because it ties directly into the other feature Niantic is introducing to “Pokemon Go:” Trading. Yes, for the first time, one of the crucial fantasies of the “Pokemon” universe – the thing that caused so much consternation in elementary school, as your cheapskate friends tried to bully you into giving up your Machamp for 10 cents on the dollar – will be coming to your iPhone. Trading was always on the horizon for Niantic, but understandably, the company wanted to make sure they got the balancing right and make sure the rest of the game wasn’t thrown out of orbit by broken exchanges. So here’s how it works: You will only be able to trade with people that are physically near you, and both players need to be at least level 10 in game. If you’re looking to offload a Pokemon that’s either a Legendary, a Shiny, or one that isn’t in the other player’s Pokedex, that will require a “Special Trade.” Special Trades can only be completed once a day, and require both players to have a Friendship Level of Great Friend or above.
There’s no more red tape after that, though. Each trade will cost a certain amount of Stardust – one of the game’s primary currencies – and that will be discounted based on your Friendship Level with the person you’re trading with. Like everything else in Niantic’s design philosophy, the goal is to funnel people into scenarios where they have to engage with each other directly. In the real world. Like Ash Ketchum in the anime. Nobody wants a scenario where idiots are selling Shiny Pikachus on eBay.
All in all, this is an interesting evolution for Pokemon GO. The Niantic developers told me that trading has been on their mind since the company first launched the game, (it was even teased in an early trailer,) and now that we’re here, the product certainly looks a lot more like a Pokemon game. Sure, there are certain aspects of the Game Boy classics that aren’t on phones yet, (we still don’t have a PvP module,) but hey, maybe that will come next year. Expect trading and friends lists to be live on the servers by the end of this week.