'Pokémon Go' Is Fun But Wow Is It Glitchy
Some of Pokémon Go’s worst glitches can quickly turn enthusiasm to exasperation.
Image: screenshot by the author
I've been playing Pokémon Go since its official release in the UK last week and sometimes, it's an absolute pleasure. But just as often, it goes something like this: I select the app and stare at the loading screen a while, possibly force-quitting and restarting several times. I finally find a pokémon and, if I can even convince it to interact with me, catch it only for my screen to freeze. I force-quit again and reload, hoping, wishing, pleading that my precious catch was saved to my pokédex before the app crashed. Repeat.
All manner of bugs and glitches have been plaguing virtual pokémon trainers since the augmented reality game swept the world. The "Known Issues" page on Pokémon Go developer Niantic Labs' support website doesn't begin to touch on the issues raised by players, which have been widely reported on Twitter, Reddit, and across gaming sites and forums.
It's clear many of those reporting bugs are, like me, passionate about the game—but at times the issues are so bad, it's simply unplayable. Here's how terrible it can be to play this game I love.
This is the big one. Ongoing server troubles are likely the culprit behind many of the most widespread complaints, such as trouble loading the app, slow speeds, and screen freezes. Since the game's release, it seems that Niantic Labs has struggled with demand for the phenomenally popular game, and it's had to push back the Japanese release date for the game because of server capacity. Last weekend, several groups of alleged hackers claimed they'd launched denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks on the game—essentially flooding the servers with traffic until they failed—but those attacks weren't directly acknowledged by Niantic.
Whatever the cause, the outcome is the same: Many people simply can't connect to play and are faced with an unmoving loading screen and perhaps an error message. It's such a big problem that a stickied "How to" post on the r/PokemonGo subreddit now answers the question, "Is the server down?" with a simple, "Yeah, probably (it's down a lot)."
Several websites have been created with the sole intention of tracking whether the Pokémon Go servers are down. They seem to have been performing better over Tuesday, so keep your pokéballs at the ready.
OK, so you've got the game to load and are ready to start your hunt. Not so fast! As the game relies on GPS to place your avatar in the correct location, you could find yourself in the wrong place or randomly drifting around. To be fair, and as Niantic explains, this is at least partly due to your device and connection. The company suggests making sure you have a good internet connection and your location is set to high accuracy.
You've got the game to load and you've located yourself on the map. Time to catch some pokémon! Or maybe not. One major complaint with Pokémon Go isn't actually a bug but a feature of the game's design: the unequal distribution of pokémon and pokéstops. While major cities are positively littered with pokéstops to load up on pokéballs and other goodies, rural trainers complain at being miles away from the nearest in-game location. You might expect rural areas to host more of the AR animals—some rare grass species, perhaps—but my own experience playing in the countryside offered little to interact with.
Players have also pointed out discrepancies between neighbourhoods, with some reporting that less wealthy or less white areas appear to have fewer pokéstops. Part of the reason for this is likely because the location of pokéstops and pokémon gyms in Pokémon Go was informed by user-submitted "landmarks" in Niantic Labs' previous augmented reality game, Ingress. This means areas that had more Ingress players are no doubt likely to have more pokéstops.
Presuming there are some monsters around you, they should show up in the bottom-right corner of your screen, under the "nearby" tab. Each pokémon is shown with some footsteps beneath it: One means you're really close, two means you're a little colder, and three means you need to walk a bit more. This is supposed to make it easier to track down your prey—except for a recent glitch that makes the feature largely redundant. The "three-step glitch" means that every pokémon is presented with three footsteps next to them, making it nearly impossible to track down that elusive Ekans.
When you come across a pokémon, the fun really begins. It's time to go in for the catch. First, you need to get the pokémon's attention by tapping on it. If this doesn't work, bad luck—you've likely fallen foul of server issues again and that Eevee will forever be beyond your grasp.
If you do manage to successfully throw your pokéball and capture a pokémon, beware the most infuriating glitch of all: a bug that one meme maker has dubbed "Schrödinger's pokéball." In this glitch, the pokéball freezes just after you think you've caught a pokémon. If the problem persists, there's nothing for it except to quit and restart the game—and see if the pokémon appears in your journal or not. Anecdotally, this seems to happen particularly when you've just landed a rarer pokémon, but that could just be because people are less likely to protest if there's only a Rattata at stake (I'm still bitter about losing a Nidorino this way).
A host of other bugs have also been reported by more advanced players. The "1 HP" glitch occurs when a trainer battles their pokémon against another at a gym, gets their opponent down to one health point, but is then incapable of finishing them off. Others have complained that their pokémon take a beating in fights even if they're dodging attacks. That's if the server issues don't kick them out of the gym at the "GO" sign, before they get to fight.
Even if you've managed to avoid the server problems, dodged the assorted glitches, and are happily catching 'em all, this is one issue you can't help by closing and restarting the app. Owing to the many phone capabilities the game requires, chief among them GPS and the camera, Pokémon Go is a huge drain on battery. There are things you can do to mitigate the power suck, such as turning on the "battery saver" option in the game's settings, but get used to carrying your charger around with you unless you want to be faced with a total blackout just when you're poised to snag that Ponyta.
Yet through all this, I still love the game. Niantic clearly has some work to do to prevent exasperation from overwhelming enthusiasm (the company did not yet respond to a request for comment about their server issues), but pokémon fever doesn't seem to be cooling off just yet. Consider this part-love letter, part-formal complaint.