As regular games sales surge, spare a thought for Pokémon Go. Its real-world gamplay faces a unique and sustained existential challenge - one whose effects are already being felt by its community, even in places not yet on lockdown.
It's the social side I miss. This weekend's ticketed Genesect event would ordinarily have been a chance to meet up, throw some lures down in the park or pub and catch up for a few hours. Instead, I spent Saturday largely at home, catching Pokémon while playing Animal Crossing. Sunday was taken up by a long walk far from anyone else among the Sussex Downs.
As other people turn to video games and video hangouts for distraction and company, I'm left looking at the game I use for socialising and exercise and wondering how that will work over the next few months.
Apart from the obvious restrictions on being out and about, people have new priorities on their time, new worries on their minds. I know I do. On Saturday night, I found myself catching the end of Ant and Dec and suddenly having a bit of a cry at its clips of NHS workers. It's at times like this, I think, we need the kindness fostered by Pokemon Go's great community more than ever.
A Genesect-themed event has started in some regions around the world. Get ready for when the event starts in your region on March 20 at 8 a.m. local time. Learn more: https://t.co/qHnZmm9fHT pic.twitter.com/DDovhYfVyA— Pokémon GO (@PokemonGoApp) March 20, 2020
This weekend's Genesect event was reworked so you could play completely solo - and it was a rewarding adventure to complete, even if my chats with others playing it were relegated to WhatsApp rather than in person.
Tasks set by the hunky Professor Willow largely asked you to battle in the game's online PVP mode and catch certain widely-found types of Pokémon. With the game's supercharged and readily available Incense gift on standby, you could fulfil its catching requirements with enough perseverance and time in your house and/or garden.
The event's rewards were improved from last November's first ticketed event, with premium items like battle passes and incubators making up the £7.99 ticket price even without its early access to the Mythical Pokémon Genesect (arguably even more valuable now its planned method of wider release, the invitation-only EX Raids, are postponed). The event's elongated length added to its sense of value - that you were getting more than a raiding session's length of play. And as before, the ticketed event's questline can be completed at any time once picked up, and will never expire.
Developer Niantic has already introduced a slew of measures to support solo play and improve the experience for those isolated at home. That includes the addition of previously raid-exclusive Legendaries to the game's PVP league - which can now be accessed without walking/paying. Niantic has also now allowed any player to battle each another remotely, paving the way for entirely remote tournaments (something my community will try later this week).
But what else can be done to make Pokemon Go sofa-ready? Well, fans have some suggestions. And, over the weekend, Niantic boss John Hanke stated more changes were indeed on the way.
One rather straightforward request is a similar option to Niantic's basically-free Incense box offer, but for Pokéballs. Without the ability to spin PokéStops, balls rapidly run out. (And while you can get more from gifts, you can't get these without someone else going to a PokéStop either.) Some kind of daily log-in bonus providing a smattering of items such as balls and Stardust would be one solution.
Others have again called for the introduction of a secret base - a kind of home for your player found in some mainline Pokémon games which could act as your personal PokéStop. Visible only to you, it could be placed at your home location and used to obtain essential supplies for catching creatures without going outside to replenish your item stocks.
All of this said, I love Pokémon Go for what it is - and what it will be again when this current period passes. I don't want any permanent change to undermine the antithesis of what this game is supposed to be about. I just want to still have somewhere familiar to turn during this time, and to chat about with my friends.