Edit: Just days after this post, PWO was taken down due to a cease and desist from Nintendo due to copyright infringement. So that's the end of the only decent MMO for this franchise.
I'm not surprised that Nintendo did this, nor am I angry that they did. It's their intellectual property and they want to make sure that it's protected from defamation or people making money off of their idea. I'm hoping that they take a look at the numbers and determine that there is enough interest in a Pokemon MMO that the company reconsiders it's stance on only producing handheld and counsel based games.
As for the fans that produced PWO, they are looking into taking what they have created and learned and will try to create a more original game not based on a preexisting franchise. I wish them luck as I will not be using their services anymore. With Black and White due out next month, I have plenty to look forward to.
Just when I think I've had all I can stand with the Pokemon franchise, I go and start playing a fan based MMO of the series. A Pokemon Massively Multiplayer Online game (MMO) has been craved by fans in the Pokemon community ever since games like Everquest and World of Warcraft became big and popular. It's probably the only genre of game that the Pokemon games haven't delved into since they started over a decade ago. With the way the main games are structured, what with different versions of the game that contain exclusive Pokemon that you have to trade for with someone with the opposite version of the game, you'd think Nintendo would have capitalized on this social aspect of the game by creating the immersive and social structure of an MMO. However, several statements from head honchos of the company have said that Pokemon will not leave the handheld market any time soon. They say that they want players to meet face to face in order to battle and trade just like they have since the Gameboy era. This is a very weird stance to hold to since with the advent of the DS series of handhelds, Wi-Fi connectability has allowed players to connect with each other over the Internet without ever leaving their homes. Why then is it okay to play online through the DS rather than through a computer? Probably because Nintendo wants us to continue buying their handheld systems. When the company produces both the hardware and the content, there's bound to be some bias towards creating games for other systems even if it's only a PC.
So an official Pokemon MMO isn't likely to happen at the moment. In the meantime, fans have grown impatient and have created their own version of a Pokemon MMO called Pokemon World Online (PWO). This ambitious project was started sometime in 2007 so it's been around for a while. Nintendo certainly knows of the project but for whatever reason hasn't shut it down. This has led the team of PWO to build and build their game, developing more complex features and game mechanics. While this game doesn't have the complexity of the original games, it does stay true to the series roots. You are a beginning trainer setting out to capture up all the Pokemon in the world and you do so by traveling through the land, finding and catching the creatures along the way.
Unfortunately, since this is a fan based game, funding is hard to come by. I signed up for an account in mid November but because of server problems, the game hasn't been playable until a week ago. Since then, I've put in about 10 hours of gameplay and have come away with a few impressions. First, the game in unbelievably buggy. Several moves don't work the way they're suppose to and items and Pokemon that I've collected have either been lost or their stats set back to previous levels. Second, the server crashes constantly. Just today, I've been kicked off at least 8 times with long gaps of time waiting for the server to come back up. Lastly, Pokemon level up very slowly. It took many hours of grinding to get to the point where I could continue.
I can't complain too much however. The game is free to play and is run mainly on donations. It's also fun to have constant interaction with the other players of the game either by talking with them in the chat or trading and battling with them. It actually feels like I'm a budding Pokemon trainer that isn't surrounded by non-playable characters. The game has the potential to be really immersive once all the glitches have been ironed out.
Here's hoping that Nintendo is watching and taking notes. If they ever create a stable environment like what PWO is trying to do then I'll definitely be signing up. Pokemon is now entering it's 5th generation of its core games but how much longer can Nintendo milk this franchise with the same type of gameplay? At some point players are just going to call it quits and find something else to play, possible even me, especially with all the competition coming from the smartphone market such as the iPhone and Android. A portable MMO I think would be a step in the right direction for Nintendo, particularly since the 3DS is about to be released. A dedicated gaming machine is what Nintendo does best but the company has to continue to innovate or it will fall behind systems that do more than just play games. Perhaps a Pokemon MMO, a franchise with an already dedicated fanbase, on a system that offers Wi-Fi or wireless service, much like the upcoming SONY Next-Generation Portable (NGP), would be the start of the next wave of gaming innovation that will bring gamers like me into the next generation of gaming.
Until then, I'll have to make do with what I've got or find something else to play. At least I can dream.