Is co-op coming to Pokemon GO? There have been datamined rumors about “raids” floating around the blogosphere, and its possible that we might already know what these mystery raids are all about: they could be the legendary events that have been teased since before launch, opportunities to team up with fellow trainers to capture high-level creatures. So far, we only know what little can be offered by the code, but the concept is tantalizing. Raids could be the first major addition to the game since launch, and one of the best ideas I’ve heard from the game in a long time.
Pokemon GO has always been a social game in spite of itself. Not “social game” in the Farmville sense, of course, but an actually social game, one that encouraged interaction for the basic fact that you played it outside, and outside is where people are. You could play it while taking walks together, you can strike up a conversation in a park, etc. It did this despite the fact that the game itself contained essentially no social mechanics at all beyond the barest minimum in the form of lures: ideally, Niantic should be thinking of ways to roll these spontaneous interactions into actual gameplay.
Raids would be a great way to do this. It’s still the kind of thing that’s best if you live in a dense city, but the possibility is easy to imagine. You get a push notification about an Articuno a mile or so away, you find that you have an hour to kill, and you go off to hunt, catching creatures along the way. Once you get there, you find a couple other people going after the same bird, you hang out for a few minutes and you get your reward. If combat is involved, it gives you a reason to be training high-level Pokémon that isn’t the useless gym system without punishing lower level players. In short, you get a lot of benefits for such a small system. It would be great if then you could challenge your new friends in PvP battles, but perhaps we wait for such things.
There are problems, of course. For example, raids in highly populated areas could easily start causing the same sorts of public safety problems we saw in the early days of the game. The only way to solve that would be increasing the frequency and density of raids in these areas, which would lean into the persistent problem of balancing the game for both rural and urban players. For reasons that shouldn’t need articulating, the developer should probably limit the times at which raids can occur: I don’t think we want to encourage kids to go to parks at 2 AM. I’m not entirely sure how Niantic would solve some these problems, but ultimately, they’re tuning issues. Unlike, say, trading, the fundamental ideas seem sound.
We have seen only small expansions to Pokemon GO in the months since release, when you think about it. We’ve seen special events, content additions in the form of new Pokemon, and small expansions of previous systems with the addition of evolution items and berries. Aside from that, we’ve gotten a revamped tracker — which mostly just fixed a problem rather than added something new — and the buddy system, which, while fun, doesn’t really change the way you play the game in any meaningful way. It’s been a problem for a game for a game that’s still leaning on some pretty thin systems for all of its gameplay.
Raids, however, would be a genuinely new thing to do, and a great way to reinvigorate the base as the weather warms up in Northern climes. We’ll wait to hear more, but I’m hopeful for the first time in a bit.