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Pokemon Go’s Master Ball Won’t Save The Game, But It’s A Start

May. 18,2023
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Pokemon Go is not what it once was. Even after most normies stopped playing a couple of months after that frenzied first summer, the community was vast. Great additions like raids and trading kept players engaged, and new Pokemon additions were always accompanied by a buzz of excitement.

The pandemic dealt the game a devastating blow. What use is a game that’s purpose is to get people outside, when everyone is locked up indoors? Yet, Niantic pulled off a masterstroke in introducing remote raiding. It kept players engaged from afar, encouraged teamwork, and I’d wager earned the developer a fair few quid in the process. However, a lot of players dropped off in this period, and Niantic never recovered them.

The years since lockdown restrictions were lifted saw Go progress from bad to worse. Fans revolted over the reversing of mechanics added at the height of the pandemic, many of which aided accessibility for disabled players and helped people to play the game on their terms. It didn’t align with Niantic’s vision for the game, and therefore it was scrapped, community be damned.

pokemon go players raiding in a parkvia Niantic
After a back and forth, the developer made some concessions, which placated fans for a period. However, a recent price hike for remote raids has once again left players feeling blue, that Niantic only has eyes for money, and doesn’t care about its players. While Niantic assures everyone that it is still raking in the cash, players are dropping like flies. I’ve seen it happen in my local community firsthand, and while that evidence is anecdotal, many players share the sentiment and lament the loss of their communities.

As always, rural players are worst affected, but even raids in the heart of my city centre are rarely full now. Niantic needs to do something major to draw its players back. Something to encourage them that this is a game worth playing again, and not just a dumping pot for all the loose change in their PayPal account. Will the introduction of the Master Ball, a ball which catches any Pokemon you throw it at without fail, an iconic piece of Pokemon lore as old as the games themselves, do that? No. But it’s a start.

Kleavor standing in front of a knocked down tree with the Pokemon Go Rising Heroes logo in the corner
First of all, the Master Ball is iconic. That’ll be enough to get some of the casual players back, even for a short period, but the more engaged types who have detached themselves in protest of predatory pricing have seen it all before. It’s the next shiny toy to give you that little boost of serotonin, it’s a Daily Incense spawning rare birds, or a Community Day featuring your fave. However, it’s free.

Special Research started as a bonus. A little extra spice to go with an event. Yes, some of those events were ticketed, but many were free. Or there was a Timed Research counterpart that offered a similar experience with fewer rewards. Over the years, though, this has morphed into a paid add-on that makes or breaks an event. If you’re happy to splash the cash, you’ll have a great time, but if you’re free to play or just a bit skint, then the events offer meagre scraps for your kind. Pokemon Go isn’t pay to win, but it’s pay to fun.

That’s changing with the Master Ball Special Research. It’s completely free, and very much feels like an olive branch proffered to disillusioned players. This is the kind of thing that you’d expect Niantic to charge for; the best ball in the game has to be worth something, right? It seems that it’s a cost Niantic is willing to pay if it gets its playerbase back on board.

lapras pikachu magikarp and wurmple in pokemon govia Niantic
The problem is, this particular olive branch is looking a little withered. It’s not fresh, and there are no salty, green fruits to pick off its twiggy appendages. One Master Ball may be a lot in a main series Pokemon game, where you can only encounter each Legendary once, but in Pokemon Go, where you’re encouraged to grind Legendary raids like they’re level six Pidgey and you’ve got a Pikachu to level up before Misty. The implication in the announcement (with its emphasis on Daily Adventure Incense) is that players might use it on the Galarian Legendary birds that are so hard to find and even harder to catch, but if I log in to play, it’ll sit in my inventory until the perfect time. If the main series games are anything to go by, I’ll never use it.

The Master Ball has a different impact in a live-service environment, and that makes it seem a little underpowered, if you can say that about a ball that catches anything it’s thrown at. I don’t think it will do enough to claw players back, but the fact that it’s free shows that Niantic might be listening a little bit, after all.
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