"Augmented Reality is an MMO" is a widely-discussed analysis of Pokémon GO by veteran MMO game designer Raph Koster, explaining why the AR-based blockbuster is basically a massively multiplayer online game that's soon to encounter many of the problems MMOs face, with those problems now threatening to impact the real world even more. (As they're starting to already.) Since this is the first augmented reality hit and since so many play it (including me), I asked Raph what Pokémon GO's developer, Niantic, should do to keep its virtual economy stable and help insure the game itself doesn't become a short-term fad.
"They need to create a sense of interdependence between players, so that other players are always seen as a mutual benefit," Raph tells me. "They need to provide support/redress facilities for problems, and anticipate that the problems will arise."
But how to build interdependence? "Roles is the classic way." He means something like classic MMO classes such as tank, healer, etc, but “it doesn't have to be those. After all, goalie, striker, midfielder, defender are also roles.”
Perhaps an even greater concern is how Pokémon GO's virtual economy is managed:
"Seems clear it's an inflationary system right now, very few drains," says Raph. (A drain or "gold sink" is a game mechanic which removes virtual currency or valuable items from the game economy, to reduce inflation.) "If [player-to-player] trading comes, real money trading will happen instantly... Once there is trade, it's classic Mudflation." (I.E., where the value of virtual items in a game become grossly over or under-valued based on player supply and demand.)
"It's pure faucet. The creatures never die. That's where value pools. Mudflation ahoy."
As for maintaining Pokémon GO usage over the long term, Raph has a very interesting suggestion there: