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Pokemon UNITE Sucks

Pokémon UNITE wants your money and it wants it bad.

It should come as no surprise that a game with outsourced development to Tencent is packed with hyper-aggressive micro-transaction opportunities absolutely everywhere. The Pokemon Company has a pretty disgraceful history in using their child-centric IP to prey on young audiences with their mum’s or dad’s credit card linked to their Nintendo Switch or mobile device.

They just slap Pikachu’s face on some pretty hollow mobile experiences and rake in the bucks. To wit:

  • Pokemon Masters
  • Pokemon Quest
  • Pokemon Cafe
  • Pokemon Magikarp Jump
  • Pokemon Shuffle
Pokemon Unite” is out now on the Nintendo Switch.

While Pokemon UNITE is yet to have its mobile release, coming out first on the Nintendo Switch, it appears that it’ll just be a matter of time. Something that you will notice immediately when trying to play the game on the Switch is that the game’s menu looks and feels exactly like every other piece-of-crap app store game.

There is obviously more to my assessment of Pokemon UNITE being yet another mobile game in disguise. As is the case for most of these types of games, especially from this developer, there are a multitude of in-game currencies, but UNITE is in a special case of its own, in that it has FIVE currencies.

The standard, I would say, is probably two with the most generic ones I can think of being Gold & Diamonds. Typically, you earn gold so slowly that you’ll need to cave and buy Diamonds with real-world currency, through convenient in-app purchases.

Some games will mix this up with a third currency gated behind some faux-late game meta, but I would say that two is probably more typical when it comes to this predatory monetization method. But five is just…wow. I mean, “greed” doesn’t seem to describe it any more. This is avarice. Those five are:

  • Aeos Coins – Gained by finishing matches.
    (Not Gold alright, totally not gold, so don’t even think it!)

  • Gems – Gained with real-world money.
    (Not Diamonds alright, they are not diamonds, definitely not diamonds, okay?)

  • Aeon Tickets – Gained by completing “missions”, through events, or the battle pass.
    (Totally not designed to get you to buy the battle pass and spend your money leveling it up.)

  • Fashion Tickets – Gained by completing “missions”, through events, or the battle pass.
    (Also totally not designed to get you to buy the battle pass and spend your money leveling it up.)

  • Holowear Tickets – Gained by completing “missions”, through events, or the battle pass.
    (Also totally, absolutely, not designed to get you to buy the battle pass and spend your money leveling it up.)
The five ridiculous currencies in Unite.

Naturally, with this many currencies, there are a plethora of monetization methods at play here. You can purchase a Pokemon to play as in matches, you can buy the battle pass and level that up, you can get loot box-like pulls for items and clothes for your trainer, and perhaps most egregious, is that you can directly purchase pay-to-win items.

I say it’s egregious because UNITE puts no effort into disguising its pay-to-win economy whatsoever. (It’s a feature!)

When you are a low-level trainer, you have fewer item choices and have fewer slots to assign them to. As your playtime increases, you’ll open these options up. The issue here is that it creates a divide between the player base that has reached this amount of playtime between:

  1. Those who have purchased gems, to purchase tickets, so that they can have better items.
  2. Those who have not.

If your items are not the highest tier available and haven’t been leveled up through real-money applications, you’re going to get left behind. You’re going to lose. You’re going to be having less fun. (Unless losing’s your thing in which case, no shame.) And you’re going to be forced to either keep up with those other players by spending your money or stop playing UNITE. And if you’ve already invested the amount of time it takes to reach this point, you’re likely going to want to continue playing UNITE.

I know what you’re thinking: “Surely if the pay-to-win economy was so obvious, blatant, and predatory, people would be furious and not spend a single cent!”

Oh, my sweet, summer child.

The reason UNITE can do this is down to a few factors:

Take a Step — Aw, the dub got rid of the "U no la la la!" cry....
Pikachu scoring during a battle!

The first is that the game’s target audience is children. Despite the fact that MOBAs, such as Dota, usually have a mature level of complexity, the IP in play here is Pokemon. Combine this with a watered-down version of the battlegrounds game type, and that means that it’s going to be accessible to a younger audience. The game is free, it has Pikachu, and it’s on Nintendo.

The second is that UNITE deploys a three-step currency. You cannot buy these items with your cash. You buy them with tickets. You buy tickets with gems. You buy gems with your real-world money. The packs that gems come in don’t exactly convert into the amounts that you can buy tickets in, and so forth. It’s designed to confuse and discourage the player from working out the exact monetary value of an in-game item. Thus, Pokemon UNITE creates its own economy. The meta inside matches is shaped around it and the target audience has to accept this paradigm.

This is all a tremendous shame for Pokemon fans hoping for more than a cash cow.

The concept of handing a game off to an outsourced developer and turning it into a mobile game mess, rather than a deep MOBA experience, is not something that fans of the Pokemon series will be unfamiliar with. What it does do is reinforce the knowledge with fans that those handling the direction of the series are uninterested in the opinion or wishes of their audience. And this is a shame because the concept had great potential.

There’s already a huge cast of characters, lots of abilities to play around with, and a really large and diverse demographic. It’s a good recipe for building a new and successful MOBA. Alas, the game seemed destined to be overly simplified just by the fact that there was no intention of it being released on PC, despite it being the best format to play the genre. Nintendo, true to form, just wants you to buy their new console more than they want to capitalize on the PC gaming market trend.

It’s for all these reasons that I strongly suggest that you not give your money to Pokemon UNITE, and why I won’t be spending a single cent either…

Pokemon #248. Tyranitar.

…unless they add Tyranitar. Because that’s one cool-ass Pokemon.


ProgramFounding Writers
AuthorLuke Cowling
YouTuberLuke Cowling
GamePokemon Unite




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