Are Research Missions What Pokémon GO Needed?

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Is the mobile game's new feature enough to keep it relevant in the long-term?

About two weeks ago, Pokémon GO added the new mechanic of Research missions to the game. As news of this update spread, many claimed that these sorts of vaguely story-based, daily missions were just the kind of thing the game needed to stay relevant, as its player base has dropped off significantly since its launch in 2016. Now that we’ve had both Field Research and Special Research to take part in for a couple of weeks, does it still seem like these additions will keep players playing for a long time to come?

I should start off by saying that I personally played Pokémon GO a whole lot more in the past couple of weeks than I had in months prior to the update. Before this new addition to the game, I had been playing Pokémon GO much more casually for several months, usually only opening the app when I had to walk somewhere of significant length anyway. Unlike the first couple of months after launch, when I was very eager to catch all the Pokémon I could, these past few months saw me very rarely going out of my way to play the game. But that changed with the inclusion of Field and Special Research, which had me taking time out of my day specifically to play Pokémon GO again.

So at a first glance, it would seem that yes, these new Research missions at least have the potential to get players back into the game and playing regularly again. And it’s not hard to see why. Before this update, there wasn’t much of a goal players had when playing Pokémon GO. You can try to conquer as many Gyms as you can, but you know some other team will just overtake them eventually anyway. Really, the only real goal the game presents is to fill out your Pokédex. Which was enough when Pokémon GO first launched. The game started with only the first Generation of Pokémon and didn’t even have all of them available yet. Everyone was excited to go out and catch all the Pokémon they can, choosing to worry about Legendaries and region-exclusives later. But after a while, this goal just wasn’t enough anymore. It was too big a goal. Over the past couple of years, two more Generations of Pokémon were added, adding more than two hundred more Pokémon to catch. Each Generation contains several region-exclusives, meaning you’d literally have to travel across the world to catch everything. Legendaries were limited to Raid Battles, which excluded various kinds of players from attaining them. Chances are, you hadn’t even finished catching or evolving all the Generation I Pokémon before Generation II came along, so you had some catching up to do, and then even more when Generation III was added. The thought of completely filling out your Pokédex simply became too big a task, and having that as the only real goal of the game was overwhelming.

But these new Research tasks provide new goals. Simpler ones that you can do in a day and be rewarded for immediately. That’s why it seemed like such a good idea. If you’re someone who felt overwhelmed with the goal of completing your Pokédex, you now have a bunch of smaller goals you can accomplish while you work towards that big goal, and these small goals even provide you with items to help you accomplish both more small goals and the larger goal. And as I stated earlier, it certainly worked for me. I may have become disenfranchised with the idea of catching every Pokémon, a task that seemed to be increasingly impossible, but now I can just work on these smaller missions assigned to me, making everything more manageable. And it seems that a lot of players aside from myself have been pretty happy with the implementation of Research goals.

But how long will it last? Sure, it was certainly great for the short-term, but will the Research feature continue to keep people playing the game months from now? After the novelty of being rewarded for small, easy-to-accomplish missions has worn off, will people still be excited to participate in Research?

Obviously, the biggest, if not only, reason that people have been participating in Pokémon GO‘s new Research feature is for the rewards. If the game gave players small, daily missions but didn’t reward them for it, probably no one would care about the update and many players like myself who started playing less frequently wouldn’t be incentivized to play more. So it seems that the success of the Research feature is contingent on if its rewards remain attractive. And this is where this new feature may be lacking.

Each individual Research mission rewards the player with an item or Pokémon encounter. A lot of these aren’t that great, though. Most of the time, you’ll be earning Poké Balls or Potions or some other item that you could easily get from spinning a PokéStop, and most of the Pokémon encounters you’ll receive are not exactly rare and desirable Pokémon. There are obviously exceptions; sometimes you might be rewarded with Ultra Balls instead of Poké Balls, or Pinap Berries instead of Razz Berries, or a Larvitar encounter instead of an Ekans. But usually these smaller rewards are nothing to write home about. And after completing these missions daily for a couple of weeks, it can get kind of stale and you might figure that it’s not worth your time trying to get three Great Throws in a row for some item you don’t really need but could just get at a PokéStop anyway.

The rewards that really made Research missions exciting was the promise of Legendary and Mythical Pokémon. The prize for completing all Special Research is a chance to catch Mew and getting seven Research Stamps rewards you with a Moltres encounter. This is really what makes the Research missions worth doing, even if some of them are absurd (Evolve a Magikarp? Seriously?). But what about when you’ve caught both Mew and Moltres?

Once you catch Mew, Special Research is just done. There’s no more of it. It’s obvious that Niantic will add more Special Research later on, probably for a chance to catch Celebi and then Jirachi, but who knows how long that will take? It could take months for the Celebi Special Research to be included in the game, and during that time, there’s no Special Research to do at all. Alternatively, maybe Niantic plans to get the Celebi Special Research into the game really soon, and have Jirachi Special Research shortly after that. But if that’s the case, then it still ultimately ends with the same result. Players will catch Celebi and then Jirachi and then have no Special Research to do until Generation IV comes to the game. Special Research is significantly harder than Field Research, so it’s possible that Niantic was banking on it taking longer for players to complete, but the way I see it, most players are probably going to fall into one of two camps: One, the people who play vigorously and take advantage of the Kanto event to complete all Special Research really quickly and have probably already caught Mew by now and are just waiting for Celebi at this point, and two, the people who think evolving a Magikarp or happening to get an Excellent Curveball throw or catching all Rattatas and Pidgeys in sight hoping that one of them is a Ditto is just more trouble than it’s worth and forget about doing Special Research. My guess would be that there aren’t going to be a whole ton of people just slowly chipping away at the Special Research for months to come. Some obviously will, but I get the feeling most people will either finish the Special Research as quickly as they can and then have no Special Research to do until Celebi is introduced into the game, or just give up on Special Research entirely because trying to catch ten Ghost-types if you don’t like wandering around at night is no fun.

So Special Research might not keep players playing consistently over a long period of time, but what about Field Research? As we’ve established, the daily rewards you get for completing these missions usually aren’t super great, but after doing at least one a day for seven days, you get a Moltres. Which is cool, especially for those who don’t care for Raid Battles, but once you have Moltres, then what? Well, unlike Special Research, you can keep on doing Field Research week after week forever. But as far as Research Breakthroughs go, the big reward is the same. Get seven Research Stamps and catch a Moltres. Get seven more Research Stamps and catch another Moltres. If you’re someone who’s just concerned with filling out your Pokédex, this probably isn’t terribly exciting. Once you have a Moltres, you don’t really need another one. If you’re someone more concerned with the battling aspect of Pokémon GO, then this is probably more appealing to you, but with each Moltres you catch giving you only three Moltres Candies, it’s still not nearly as great a reward as catching your first Moltres. It’s likely that Niantic will start switching out what Legendary Pokémon players can encounter from Research Breakthroughs at some point, but that hasn’t occurred yet, and we don’t know the specifics of what that will entail assuming it does happen eventually.

So yeah, these Research missions got me playing Pokémon GO a lot more lately than I have been, but now that I have both Mew and Moltres, I can probably just go back to hardly playing it again. And I would imagine that a lot of players are the same. It was fun while it lasted, but now Special Research and Field Research don’t really have anything to offer anymore, so I’ll probably just be done with the game for a while again.

That being said, I think Research actually will be successful in getting people to play more in the long-term. People like me might be kind of done with the game again now, but that will likely change once a new Legendary Pokémon is attainable from Research Breakthroughs or a new Mythical Pokémon is available from Special Research. There may not be that many Mythical Pokémon in the first three Generations, but there are a lot of Legendaries that solo players haven’t caught since they’ve been exclusive to Raid Battles thus far. If Niantic decides to switch out which Legendary is attainable from Research Breakthroughs say every month or so, they can probably get people playing their game again for at least a week every month for the foreseeable future. And personally, I think that’s great. As someone who struggles more and more to find free time, I like the prospect of Pokémon GO being something I can play for a little each month, rather than something I feel obligated to play every day if I want to keep up. I just hope they don’t make us wait TOO long before making new Legendary and Mythical Pokémon available.