My thoughts on Pokemon GO and Windows phone

Dennis Bednarz

The Pokemon GO client for Windows called PoGo has been in the centre of attention on Microsoft oriented websites lately. And that is for a good reason, as the project has been rapidly evolving with the help of the eager Windows Phone community.

A few days ago, a user on PoGo’s official Telegram group reported that the app didn’t show any Pokemon or PokeStop on the map. I checked for myself, after foolishly saying something must be wrong with his device, and I too couldn’t see any objects on the map. That is the moment when the whole PoGo community crashed. Turns out, Niantic enabled the long-feared encryption of their server calls making all third-party tools unusable.

The speculation of Niantic possibly making this move goes back to the first days of Pokemon GO, when developers started to build on top of the unprotected API that Niantic unofficially provided. This API got finally encrypted and people started to go crazy on social media, and constantly tweeted at Niantic and Pokemon GO. But they shouldn’t put all this pressure on them. Niantic is doing what every self-respecting company would. They are protecting their product.

A lot of people seem to falsely believe that Niantic blocked the access to their servers just to make the life of PoGo developers harder. Instead, they did that to prevent cheating and bots. You might think that PoGo didn’t include any cheats, but think again. The whole internet is filled with cheating tools for Pokemon GO. We even covered a cheating tool, recently, that is available for Windows 10 called Find Em’ All. It is a perfect example of how these APIs could be used for the wrong purposes. The app used the APIs to show you where all Pokemon were, without you needing to look for them defeating the whole purpose of the recently removed tracking system that the official apps included.

There were way worse apps, however, of which some let you sit on your couch while the character in the game is automatically running around and capturing Pokemon and battling in gyms for you. This is not how any true Pokemon trainer or Niantic wants people to level up and explore the game.

Cheating is just one issue. Don’t forget about the infamous Niantic servers that have traffic issues over and over. This is, according to Niantic, an issue that partially caused by trackers, bots, and cheating tools as many of them are making requests to the server 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This is indeed causing a lot of strain on the servers, but is it as much as Niantic says it is? Niantic provided a graph, showing how much the server load decreased after disabling the unauthorised access to their servers, but it doesn’t specifically outline any key details — what percent of unauthorised access was removed? To me, this graph appears misleading for that reason alone.

You are probably thinking, “how does this matter to me? I only want Pokemon on my Windows phone” and you are right in thinking so. However, to prevent unnecessary questions, hate comments and disappointments, it’s a good idea to know the real reason behind the encryption. What this means for the future of PoGo or Pokemon GO on Windows in general, is actually not that much, if anything at all. Encryptions can usually be bypassed given that you spend some time on cracking the code, so why all this chaos around this? This is an answer you won’t find here, as I simply don’t know it, but the mess around this matter is unnecessary.

Looking at the official side of the matter, Niantic developed Pokemon GO using the Unity engine, which is cross platform. A lot of games that are available on the Windows Store often display a little “made with Unity” text and a cube. This tool can create 3D games for Android, iOS, Windows Phone, and the Universal Windows Platform, and works similarly to Microsoft’s Xamarin. You code it once and it runs on most platforms with minor changes. This theoretically means that Niantic could port Pokemon GO with very few code modifications. Now, why aren’t they doing it?

Windows phones aren’t really that popular and that is a sad fact. People got amazed that the Pokemon GO petition hit up to 100,000 signatures, and that this should be enough to convince Niantic, however, this is just roughly 1% of the total daily players if you go by the numbers Recode has calculated. This isn’t a reason enough to actually port that app.

But 100,000 people is still a pretty big group, and it could bring a lot of revenue. So maybe it isn’t that obsolete at all. Microsoft, Niantic, Nintendo or anyone that might be involved in this hasn’t commented on Pokemon GO for Windows Phone. We had some “confirmations” by people that work on PR divisions of the company, but nothing really stated officially that “Pokemon GO is coming to Windows”.

So what would happen if the game actually comes to Windows phone one day? Would the internet “explode”? People keep saying this is the next Snapchat and we will never see the app on our phones. This is largely false. Niantic is not Snapchat, Pokemon GO is not a messaging app, John Hanke isn’t Evan Spiegel.

Let’s start with the basics. Snapchat and Pokemon GO are two very different types of apps. One of them is a messaging app, the other one is a game. A messaging app can live for years and still be “the top app” which is the case of Snapchat. A messaging app doesn’t get boring. You use it to talk to people, not to entertain yourself. You can’t “complete” it. Pokemon GO will lose it’s hype sooner or later, just like the famous Flappy Bird did, like Geometry Dash did and even like Grand Theft Auto V did. It will exit the mainstream market, no matter if Niantic wants it to or not. There will be a couple of die-hard fans still playing it, and it will stay in people’s heads, but you won’t see flocks of people glued to their phones trying to catch a Pikachu.

The second difference is the company itself. Niantic is not Snapchat. They won’t try to chase every developer of a third party client just to send them a takedown request. Niantic is known for removing several other clients for their other Ingress game. A long time ago, when Ingress first launched, there was actually no iOS version of the game. So other developers took this job for themselves and made the client. Then Niantic took it down. But not because they were third-party, but because they were releasing an official client for iOS and didn’t want any confusion. History could repeat itself with Pokemon GO and PoGo, and for now, all we can do is wait for a word from the developers of the APIs.

But hey, don’t worry; It’s just a game after all, right?