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 or Dad’s credit card linked to their Nintendo Switch or mobile device.
They outsource pretty hollow mobile experiences with the face of Pikachu on the front, then rake in the bucks:
- Pokemon Masters
- Pokemon Quest
- Pokemon Cafe
- Pokemon Magikarp Jump
- Pokemon Shuffle
Whilst Pokemon UNITE is yet to have it’s mobile release, with the game first coming to the Nintendo Switch before later releasing on smart phone devices, it appears that this is just the next example in that list. 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.
Being a mobile game in disguise, there is obviously more to my assessment of Pokemon UNITE belonging on the list. As is the case for most of these types of games, specifically from this developer, there are a multitude of in-game currencies. But, UNITE is in a special case of its own, in that there are FIVE currencies.
The standard I would say is probably two, for this nature of game. The most generic ones I can think of are Gold & Diamonds. Typically you earn gold so slowly than you will 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 being 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 .. wow. The 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, also totally not designed to get you to buy the battle pass, and spend your money leveling it up..)
Naturally with this many currencies, there are a plethora of monetization methods at play here. You can purchase 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 it’s pay-to-win economy whatsoever.
When you are a low level trailer, you have fewer item choices, and have fewer slots to assign them to. As your play time 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:
- Those who have purchased gems, to purchase tickets, to have better items.
- 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 having less fun. And you’re going to either be forced to keep up with those other players by spending your money, or stop playing UNITE. The issue here is that if you have invested the amount of time it takes to reach this point, you are 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!”
The reason it works despite that, is down to a few factors:
The first being that the game’s target audience is children. Despite the complexities of MOBAs like Dota typically requiring a little bit of an older audience, the IP in play here is Pokemon – combine this with a watered-down version of the battlegrounds game type, means that the game caters to a young target audience in children. The game is free, it has Pikachu, and it’s on their 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. You get the idea. 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 it’s 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 mismanagement of the concept in handing it off to an outsourced developer to turn a mobile-game-mess, rather than a deep MOBA experience featuring Pokemon, is not something that fans of the series will be unfamiliar with. It does reinforce the knowledge that those that handle the direction of the series are uninterested with the opinion or desire of their audience. Which is a shame, because the concept had great potential.
There is already huge cast to work with, lots of abilities to work with too, and a really large and diverse demographic. It’s a really good recipe for building a new MOBA. Alas, the game was always destined to be pretty simplified just by the fact that it was never going to be released on PC, despite that being the best format to play the genre. Nintendo want 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 really suggest you not give your money to Pokemon UNITE, and why I won’t be spending a cent either..
..unless they add Tyranitar, that is one cool ass Pokemon.