Still catching them all: Pokemon Go, a year later

Members of the public playing Pokémon Go at Blk 401,Houngang Ave 10. TODAY file photo
A huge crowd of Pokemon Go players is seen at the public space at Blk 401, Hougang Ave 10. TODAY file photo
Members of the public playing Pokémon Go at Blk 401,Houngang Ave 10. TODAY file photo
Published: 11:15 PM, August 5, 2017
Updated: 10:44 AM, August 6, 2017

SINGAPORE ­— Mr Zen Ng remembers Aug 6, 2016, vividly. That was the day Pokemon Go, the augmented reality game that involves players searching for and capturing cartoon characters from the Pokemon franchise on their mobile devices, was launched in Singapore.

Having been a fan of the Pokemon series since his childhood, Mr Ng, 22, wasted no time in downloading the game.

But unlike the vast majority of players here, who have gradually tired of chasing the next prized capture since the game, developed by US gaming company Niantic, hit Singapore’s shores to some fanfare, Mr Ng is among a handful of diehards who are still at it.

He would venture to places like Changi Village, sometimes with his father, spending up to four hours “walking up and down ... to catch all the monsters to increase (our experience points)”. He now ranks at Level 39, while his father is a level higher.

Episodes such as the recent introduction on July 22 of Pokemon characters carrying “legendary” status — so named because they are very rare and often very powerful ­— are why the game remains engaging for some players.

Others say the recent revamp of Pokemon Gyms, where players battle characters, and “special events” in the game ­— such as a double point bonus to celebrate the app’s first anniversary ­— have them hooked on going one better yet.

Mr Joachim Leong, 31, a public relations consultant, said he was curious to “see what new features are in the game” with each update.

“When the second generation of Pokemon became available, it reignited a different memory of my teenage years. Needless to say, it was a good week of obsessive catching once again,” he added.

Mr Janzten Lee, 20, who created the Pokemon Go Hougang Facebook group last year, said he took a short break from gaming to focus on his internship. But when the second-generation Pokemon were released, he could not resist diving in again.

Dr Patrick Williams, an associate professor of sociology at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), and research fellow at NTU’s Institute on Asian Consumer Insight, pointed out that it was the social aspect of the game that keeps people playing.

“Mobile augmented reality games involve a mixture of individual and collective behaviours. Some players are engaged by achievements and statistics, for example (when) they play for a sense of personal accomplishment. Others are engaged because it gives them opportunity to accomplish things together with friends or even strangers,” he said.

Marketing manager Tricia Awyang, 39, she she once blew around S$50 in one sitting on in-app purchases, just to be able to better compete in the game, for instance.

While the number of Pokemon players has “steadily decreased over time”, those who find enjoyment are “still quite engaged”, said Dr Williams.

And to keep existing players hooked on the game, Niantic must “figure out ways to keep players engaged without making the game feel repetitive”, he added.

Fans of the game agree that the friends they have made through Pokemon Go are one more reason for their sustained interest.

Fresh graduate Taylor Ong, who spent up to 12 hours in a day chasing a rare Pokemon when the game first launched, said he is aiming to go beyond his current Level 37 in the game, “since I managed to find fellow people in my neighbourhood that I can play with”.

Agreeing, Mr Ng added: “I made friends through the game, so I will still try to play, to have a common topic to talk about.”

At its peak last year, many players gathered at popular locations, such as Hougang Avenue 10, Chinese Gardens and Yishun Park, all waiting to catch elusive monsters in the game.

The area around Block 401 Hougang Avenue 10, for instance, regularly had dozens of players camping out, some overnight.

The large crowds irked some residents because of jaywalking and the litter left behind. Similar reports also surfaced of rubbish left behind at Yishun Park.

Last August, the police also arrested a motorist and a pedestrian — who was playing Pokemon Go — after they got into a scuffle.

A year later, things are quite different.

A 39-year-old homemaker residing near Block 401 Hougang Ave 10, who only wanted to be known as Ms Chew, told TODAY that footfall at the area has plunged. “I don’t think I will miss the crowds, to say the least,” said Ms Chew, who recalled having to navigate through “a large crowd of people glued to their phones” while coming home.