June 20, 2018
Developer Insights: Inside the Philosophy of Friends and Trading
Trading with friends is one of the cornerstone features of Pokémon, and it started at the very beginning with the first video games, Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue, when a special cable was required to connect two Game Boy systems. So it’s probably not a surprise to say that Trainers from all over the world have eagerly anticipated a Pokémon trading feature since Pokémon GO was announced in 2015. Finally, after many iterations and thoughtful experiments, this feature—alongside a robust friend system—will soon start rolling out to Trainers around the world.
Let’s take a closer look at the system and why we believe we’ve created a set of features that reward close friendships without upsetting the game’s overall balance and fairness for Trainers of all levels.
Friends, Gifting, and Friendship Levels
Our primary goal when exploring these features was to encourage Trainers to play together and connect meaningfully in-game. Up until now, those activities have focused around battling at Gyms and in Raid Battles, where Trainers can work together to battle Pokémon for rewards. However, there wasn’t a way for Trainers to directly aid each other or have an in-game representation of friendships outside of the Raid Battle lobby. That goal became the foundation of our friend system.
Once a Trainer shares their Trainer Code with someone, that person can then send them a Friend Request. After two Trainers have become friends, they’ll be able to send each other Gifts. Gifts are initially obtained by spinning the Photo Disc at a PokéStop or Gym. When receiving a Gift from a friend, Trainers will see a postcard from the PokéStop or Gym where the friend acquired the Gift. We want this to mirror the feeling of when a friend gives you a present from a store you enjoy or sends you a postcard from a far-off land. It’s intentionally sentimental and brings two Trainers together in their travels. Plus, how exciting would it be if one Trainer sent a Gift from a special vacation spot or an exclusive event?
Gifts contain items that are of higher value than what Trainers normally obtain from spinning PokéStops, supporting the feeling that your friends are really helping you make the best of your Pokémon GO journey. Additionally, Gifts can contain special 7 km Eggs that will hatch into some of the Alolan forms of Pokémon originally discovered in the Kanto region—an exciting prospect for those eager to fill out their collection.
When designing this feature, we wanted friends to be able to help each other directly in Gyms and Raid Battles by activating bonuses. Great Friends will receive not only an Attack bonus to help them take down a Raid Boss at a much faster rate, but also extra Premier Balls to catch the Pokémon when the battle is complete. This adds more rewards and incentives for actions they’re already taking and can be especially beneficial for smaller groups of Trainers that battle together. When tight-knit friends take on a Raid Boss, even a small group can be mighty.
In the real world, friendships build over time. As you get to know someone, you become closer and your friendship is strengthened. So we set out to create a feature that captures this feeling of growing a friendship. As you complete all of the above activities, you’ll build your Friendship level with your friend and, in turn, continue to earn and unlock bonuses for playing together. In the game, you’ll notice the interface shows the growth of a friendship, building incrementally and deliberately as it unlocks rewards that are even more meaningful.
When we set out to create the trading feature within Pokémon GO, we knew that it would be a challenge to design a useful feature that would provide amazing value to players without overshadowing the joys and excitement of encountering and catching Pokémon in the wild. To help ensure that Trainers have a uniquely positive experience with trading that doesn’t also upset this careful balance, we’ve required Trainers to become friends before they’re able to trade Pokémon, and we also put in some additional barriers to prevent misuse of the feature.
First, all trades require both Trainers to use Stardust in order to complete the trade of any Pokémon. For trades in which players are swapping Pokémon already found within their Pokédexes, only a minimal amount of Stardust is required. This allows Trainers to freely trade most Pokémon that they encounter within reasonable limits, as Stardust is an important resource.
On the other hand, for new friends making high-value Special Trades of Legendary Pokémon, Shiny Pokémon, and Pokémon not currently in a Trainer’s Pokédex, we’ve intentionally set the amount of Stardust required to be prohibitively high. We think that gating these trades behind a high Stardust requirement works to prevent exploitation and the creation of a black market, which would devalue the hard work of Trainers who have managed to encounter and catch rare or powerful Pokémon. Additionally, Special Trades can only be done once per day to limit the number of times a single Trainer can make Special Trades with all of their friends.
Special Trading does become more accessible over time. As the Friendship level between two Trainers increases, the amount of Stardust needed to complete a Special Trade will significantly decrease. It’s not our intention to prohibit trading Legendary Pokémon, but it makes sense that it would be much more difficult to achieve, given the amount of work it takes to catch one in the first place. Similarly, we want to celebrate all the hard work that’s goes into building your friendships by making Special Trades much more accessible at higher Friendship levels. Just as in real life, putting effort into your friendships brings real rewards.
Another notable aspect of trading in Pokémon GO is that the stats of the Pokémon will change randomly within a range when traded. Before you complete a trade, you’ll see the range of CP and HP that the Pokémon could potentially have when the trade is complete. There’s a thoughtful calculation to deciding that range: We first look at your friend’s Trainer level to confirm the Pokémon is not powered up past what would ordinarily be obtainable for someone at that level. Next, we assign minimum stat values based on your Friendship level, and that base increases the higher that level is. In other words, as your Friendship level increases with a friend, you’ll have a better chance of receiving a strong Pokémon when trading. A Pokémon that may not be great in battle for you may excel in battle once traded to one of your friends! In order to bar some Trainers from continually re-rolling a Pokémon’s stats through trade, however, all Pokémon cannot be traded again. This feature incentivizes trading without giving a significant advantage to one Trainer over another.
Finally, Mythical Pokémon cannot be traded at all, so all Trainers must complete the Special Research “A Mythical Discovery” in order to catch Mew. We will continue to reward Trainers with encounters that can only be found through research, and reward Trainers’ continued loyalty with a sense of fairness.
Trading is special, and although several mechanics are in place to ensure that Trainers don’t take unfair advantage of it, there are also plenty of rewards to make these mechanics feel unique and personal. For example, a Trainer from the United States who goes on vacation to Europe might send special Gifts to friends back home from PokéStops and Gyms at special landmarks. And, once they return, they could get together with those friends and trade them Mr. Mime—a Pokémon unique to Europe—over the course of a few days. This not only is a special act of friendship, but also helps the traveling Trainer earn even more Bonus Candy for their own Mr. Mime, as they are trading Pokémon that were caught far from the Pokémon they receive in trade. This is one of many scenarios we hope to see our Trainers enjoy.
While we are pleased to bring a robust friend and trading system to Pokémon GO, there are still more collaborative and social features we would love to bring to the game. We’re continuing to explore more ways to bring special interactions to Pokémon GO that encourage meaningful in-person interactions with friends and loved ones, and the friend feature will serve as an excellent foundation for building on these ideas. Exploring is always more fun when you have someone to come along for the ride, and we hope that these features only strengthen that sentiment.
—The Pokémon GO team