Pokémon Go has been such a phenomenon that Comic-Con upgraded it from a tiny panel into a premier event in Hall H, where it appeared to pack most of the 6,000-plus seats in the room this afternoon. If you've questioned how seriously people are taking this game, you should hear how long the cheers (and jeers) of several thousand fans went on for in response to a single shout of, "Team Mystic!"
The panel was a simple back and forth between John Hanke, Niantic's CEO and founder, and Nerdist founder Chris Hardwick, the moderator. Hanke discussed the game's rollout over the past two weeks (frequently noting Niantic's work on server issues) and touched briefly on where the game is going in the future. Perhaps most exciting for newer Pokémon fans, Hanke said that new generations of creatures would eventually make their way into the game.
"The game's really an excuse to go outside, see your city, and have fun with other people."
"Beyond first generation, there are some others that may make their way into our universe," Hanke said. "We're looking forward to finding interesting ways to make that happen in the coming months and years." That's not a very specific timeline — and it sounds like this will come well down the road, and certainly not until the basics like server issues are worked out — but he was clear that they will come eventually, in one way or another.
The thing Hanke personally seemed more interested in was making pokéstops a bigger part of the game. He mentioned that pokéstops frequently have lures placed at them, and he thinks it would be interesting to give players other ways to modify a pokéstop's function. "That's a pretty cool idea that you can acquire an object that changes the function of a pokéstop and gives it a new ability," Hanke said. One of those functions might be turning them into healing pokécenters, he said, as Niantic wants to add them to the game in some way.
Trading and training features are in the works as well. Pokémon breeding is also something Hanke said Niantic has been discussing.
In all cases, it sounds like it'll be a little while before the new features arrive. Hanke used the panel to unveil the design of each of the three pokémon teams' leaders, noting that until now, "You've only seen these guys as silhouettes because maybe we weren't quite finished by launch day." (The team leaders include two women and a total bro, who's in charge of Team Instinct.)
Niantic is interested in features that make people get out of the house
"I don't have a date for you," Hanke said regarding new features. "We're working really hard to keep the servers up and running. We're working on it, but its gonna take a little longer."
People in Hall H were generally a mixture of excited and impatient about the prospect of new features. Making their impatience worse, a rumor had spread that Niantic may use the panel to give players a chance to capture one of the rare pokémon that have yet to appear. Niantic had no such intention. And when Hanke finally told the audience, "There's no new pokémon today, I'm sorry," people erupted, making their disappointment known. The overreaction was a bad moment during an otherwise thoughtful panel.
While new features are of course the highlight of what Hanke discussed, he also shed light on some of the game design decisions that went into Go. What's interesting is how many of Go's good and bad points are very much intentional. When Hardwick complained that he has to leave his home to go catch anything, Hanke shot back that, "There are some people out there, after dinner they would go for a walk."
The game is also very much designed as a way of tricking people into getting exercise, engaging with their community, and exploring their neighborhood. "We didn't want to advertise it as a fitness app or something of that nature," Hanke said. "I have kids — you don't want to tell them it's good for them."
That's part of why customizable pokéstops are so exciting to Hanke: it offers another way to get people out of the house and interacting with their surroundings. "It's so amazing to see," Hanke said. "The game is the game, but the game's really an excuse to go outside, see your city, and have fun with other people."