At the start of October, Pokémon published a brief notice stating that Pokémon for iOS would be retired at the end of November. True to their word, at midnight of the 1st of December (around 4pm in my time zone yesterday), the server running Pokédex for iOS’s in-app content purchases was taken offline and the app itself disappeared from the App Store within the hour. There were no official news posts marking its passing, no tweets, no acknowledgements… it just went away.
Pokédex for iOS is dead. Long live Pokédex for iOS.
What was it exactly?
Pokédex for iOS was a Universal iOS app designed to serve as a comprehensive companion guide to gamers playing the main Pokémon series on Nintendo handheld devices. It provided all of the major stats of each Pokémon ingame (moves, evolutions, abilities, etc), but its major selling point was that every single Pokémon had a highly detailed, real-time rendered 3D model that would play little emote animations on cue.
It was developed by Creatures Inc, presumably out of Tokyo, and had a base price of $2USD to buy. By default, only the Pokémon species from the latest game series, Black/White were included, and getting the Pokémon from each previous generation was a separate in-app purchase of $6USD, making the fully unlocked app, $26.
Back in 2012, after meeting 2 of the producers from the Pokémon Company at GDC, I had been emailing them every few weeks about the prospects of officially licensing iPokédex. Each time, they would reply saying they were a bit too busy at the moment to discuss it, but to try again in a few weeks. A week before Pokédex for iOS was revealed, they said to me ‘We should be free in a week. Try again then. ;)’, which in retrospective should have been my first tip-off that this thing was coming.
I could write a whole blog post on what I thought of the design or the amount of information in it, but suffice it to say, it was very visually confusing to look at, and eschewed nearly every single iOS UI control in favour of a completely ‘custom’ experience resulting in the interactions, feeling quite weird as a result. Also, it was REALLY obvious that it was originally built in Japanese, and then switched over to English at the end (Words being resized to fit into small boxes etc).
The app was last updated at the start of 2013, before Pokémon X and Y, and before iOS 7. As a result, it got progressively more broken as more versions of iOS and more iOS devices came out and progressively more out-of-date when X and Y, and later ORAS came out. Given how much effort it would require to bring the app up-to-date, it’s not surprising that they decided to kill it instead.
What happens now?
The app itself has been pulled from the App Store, but if you delete it off your device, you can still re-download it from your ‘Purchases’ list in the App Store app.
What’s more troubling is the In-App Purchase content. If you had purchased any of the $6 content packs, they are now officially gone for good. If you re-download the app, and try and access their download page, this is all you get now:
If you re-install the app, there is literally no way to restore any of the in-app content that you may have paid for. If you paid for all 4 packs, then you’re now officially $24USD out of pocket.
This is an incredibly disappointing move by Pokémon and it displays incredibly bad faith towards paying customers who invested in the app.
Can I back it up if it’s already on my device?
Officially, Apple’s developer policy is that in-app purchase content must explicitly be set to not be backed up. This makes sense in the fact that iCloud backup space is limited (so it should be limited to user-created content only), and in-app purchase content can (normally) be easily re-downloaded when the user taps the ‘Restore’ button.
If the app was implemented in the officially required way, then no. If you reset your device, or upgrade to a new device, the Pokédex in-app content WILL NOT carry over as well.
What should they have done instead?
When iOS 6 hit, Apple made it possible that in-app purchasable content of this nature could be hosted on their own servers next to the app. This saves developers and companies a lot of time and resources since they don’t need to worry about setting up their own content distribution hardware.
For some reason (Possibly because it was already built before iOS 6 was announced), the Pokédex app doesn’t do this and instead relied on their own server and software.
Ideally, they should have simply removed the app from purchase, but still left the in-app purchase system running. And if they had originally gone with hosting their content on Apple’s servers, they could have simply left it running alone indefinitely, at no cost to themselves.
In any case, in this day and age, simply pulling content that users have already paid for without providing any alternatives, or compensation is incredibly poor form.
Can I get a refund?
If you bought the in-app purchase content within 90 days, you can get Apple to automatically refund you for that content. iMore has put up a brilliant blog post on how to do that.
If not, you’re probably out of luck. Sorry.
All in all, this entire app experience was a pretty disappointing display by The Pokémon Company. So much so that they’ve now decided to quietly sweep it under the rug, and simply wear any bad faith they created between themselves and any users who may have bought it.
I’m personally quite upset about it since these are the sorts of actions that make consumers’ faith in paying for digital goods waver, which can have an impact on a lot of other developers. This sadly, is the cold hard reality of buying digital goods, and it’s why I’m so opposed to DRM-protected content.
In any case, the Pokédex app space on iOS is once again clear and I’m sure TPCI isn’t going to try and do another one on their own any time soon again. I wonder what opportunities this may have opened…