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Overhauling the Pokemon GO TM System

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Introduction

When Pokemon Go was first released, a Pokemon’s moves were as static as its species; they would change on evolution, but that’s it. Needless to say, this upset many players, as your Pokemon was basically worthless regardless of IVs if it had a bad moveset. I for one had a high-IV Dragonite during this time that evolved to have Steel Wing and Hurricane, so believe me when I say that the frustration was very real for many players. This was the norm for quite some time for all of Pokemon Go, and then Niantic released Raids that gave TMs as rewards and everything changed. Sure, TMs were entirely random, but at least our favorite Pokemon are no longer relegated to the bench because of their initial moveset; we could fix anything that wasn’t a legacy move, and this fixed one of the biggest problems of the day! However, this retrospective also begs the question; how well have these items aged? As time goes on, it is starting to feel more and more as though the TM system needs an upgrade to keep up with the times.

The Issues with the Current System

When this system was released, it was actually fairly effective. TMs randomly give you a new move from a Pokemon’s movepool, excluding the move that it currently knows. Since most Pokemon had 2-3 Fast Moves and generally 3 Charged Moves in their movepools, the system was fairly balanced. Some players would end up spending 9 TMs to get the right move, but most Pokemon had about a 50% chance of getting it right the first time. This made TMs very valuable, with many people hoarding them for future Pokemon. However, the main issue with this system can be summed up if we take a look at one Pokemon: Mew.

Mew has the largest movepool in the game, and anyone who has tried to get a specific moveset will attest to the fact that it’s a feat that’s built on a mountain of burned TMs. “But that’s just one Pokemon” you may note, but it’s just the flowering head of a deeply rooted problem; Mew is emblematic of the direction that Pokemon Go is going with movesets, as Niantic is beginning to push more and more moveset expansions. For example Hypno, a Pokemon that is valued for its use in Great League PVP, currently has 6 charged moves available, not including its cache of legacy charged moves! This means that if you dual-move a Hypno and use a Charged TM, you only have a 25% chance of getting the move that you want, and given the general rarity of these items for all but those who farm tier 4 or higher raids multiple times a week, it’s becoming a slowly mounting problem that is only getting worse. This lack gets us to play more often as it gives us a goal, but the age of the system is beginning to really show, and eventually, it becomes outright discouraging to players, which is not what the goal of any game should be.

Fix 1: Make TMs More Common

This is the obvious fix: just make TMs more common. At the beginning of the system, TMs were actually a fairly common reward from most raids regardless of tier. It was nothing to walk away from a week of using daily passes with 2-3 TMs from tier 2 raids alone. This lasted for a few months, and then we saw a rarity boost close to what we have today. With the aforementioned moveset expansions and expansive yet still growing Pokedex that we have now, making TMs more common would be a huge blessing for many, many players.

System Pros

Makes Getting a TM much more manageable 

This goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway; having a Pokemon with a bad moveset that you need to change is irritating, and going a week or more without a TM can be downright maddening. And it’s even worse for new players who don’t have the Pokemon or group size needed to take down raids on a casual basis. Based on this alone, it’s a good idea to make them more common from raids, and maybe add a few research rewards/breakthroughs that hand them out in order to keep the player-base happy.

System Cons

Bag Space

Have you ever had to throw out a Fast (or maybe even Charged) TM because you had too many? This issue would be compounded even more than before. However, this isn’t much of an issue; many of us have a surplus of some item(s) that we cull down to our own preferred limit, so why should TMs be any different if they’re made common? 

Reduces Raid Incentive

Have you ever dropped a raid pass just to hope for a TM? Many of us have, and it’s likely a source of thousands of dollars a month for Niantic. If TMs become too common, then players have one less reason to raid, which is bad for Niantic’s bottom line and bad for the player-base looking for help with raids. Admittedly, it probably wouldn’t make a massive impact, but it would bring at least some change to the raid scene.

Fix 2: Choose Your Own Move

This is one that a lot of players have been asking for since the system’s release: just let players pick what move a TM gives. This feature could either be added to existing TMs or added as a new class of TM.

System Pros

Fixes the Need for Multiple TMs Per Pokemon

This one goes without saying; if you have a 100% chance of getting the move that you want, when you only need one TM per move-type per Pokemon. It would instantly cut the frustration of the current system by 90%, as we’d know that our moveset problem was solved the moment that we obtained a TM

Makes it Easier to Plan for New Pokemon

In most cases, we have one-in-three odds of getting the exact charged move that we want on a new Pokemon. When we see a new Pokemon released or a raid boss return to the game that we know as a fact that we want to raise, the majority of us immediately look at our stardust, species candy/rare candy, and TM supplies in order to figure out how ready we are for this. Making TMs user-choice means that we’d be more prepared for whatever may come regardless of our TM hoard.

Makes Large Movesets Viable

In the main series, it’s nothing for a Pokemon to have a moveset consisting of 30+ moves. Here, the only Pokemon with a comparable moveset is the aforementioned Mew, who is horribly unwieldy for most of us to try to get an ideal moveset on. Allowing players to pick movesets would not only make Mew more usable, but it also would allow existing and new Pokemon to have far more expansive movesets. This would give individual Pokemon new life as their utility expands, and also add more spice to raids as the moveset faced becomes less certain.

System Cons

TM Rarity Would Likely Increase

Let’s face it: if Niantic did this, TMs would likely become less common. While this isn’t a sure down-side, it’s pretty likely. While knowing what a TM will do to a given Pokemon on use would become streamlined, it might very well take an additional week to find one, which would probably balance out in the end. On the bright side, events like Supereffective Week would be all the more exciting as a result.

Fix 3: Permanent TMs

Sort of like the permanent incubator; give us a single TM of each type that has infinite uses, but must be “recharged” between uses. This could be done via walking, number of Pokemon caught, specific time interval, or any number of other methods. It could become the new lone system, or it could be used in conjunction with existing TMs in order to lighten the burden a bit and keep hope for all players.

System Pros

We Would Never Have a True TM Drought

This system would give us constant hope for our Pokemon, because we’d know that even if we didn’t find a TM soon, we could always fall back on our permanent TM at some point. We’d still have the same old problem of getting the wrong move, but we could always have at least a rough idea of the maximum time that we’d have to wait for our next try.

System Cons

It Would Likely be Fairly Hard to Recharge, and Existing TMs Would Likely Become Rarer

If it recharges with distance walked, it would probably be 20-50km, maybe even 100km per use. If it’s time, it would probably be a week between uses. Heck, it may even require that we complete X number of raids in order to recharge it. On top of that, existing TMs would probably become a lot scarcer if kept alongside this system. Either way, Niantic would likely balance this system.

Fix 4: Remove TMs

This is another frequently proposed fix: get rid of TMs altogether. The terms of this fix generally range from free move changing at will to costing stardust/candy, so it’s a pretty broad topic, to say the least.

System Pros

TMs Are No Longer an Issue

The advantage of this approach speaks for itself; we’d never need to have another conversation on TMs again. This is the ultimate way to put the power over an individual Pokemon into the hands of the player, as it would be possible to work and/or save for the exact moveset needed without having to scour the game for a single item that might not even work as hoped.

System Cons

Dust and Candy Become More Valuable

With the possible exception of TMs in select cases, Stardust is the most valuable resource in the game. It’s used for powering up Pokemon, unlocking new moves, and purifying Shadow Pokemon, but even with those three uses and one of them being optional most of the time, it’s the crux of building up teams for PVE and PVE alike. 

Fewer Good Rewards

Most of us raid for two main reasons: to catch the raid boss, and to get rewards. Now, what if one of the biggest rewards of this system disappeared because it wasn’t needed? We’d lose a lot of incentive to raid. This isn’t good for anyone, as it makes it harder to find raid partners, and will surely cut into Niantic’s bottom line, which makes it less likely for us to get quality updates down the line.

Alternative: Special Move TMs

While this one doesn’t fix the TM system per say, it is probably the most requested TM class out there, and no discussion about TMs would be complete without it. Since Niantic announced that Dratini’s Community Day move would not be TMable back in February 2017, players have been asking for a way to unlock event and/or legacy moves on an existing Pokemon. A special rare TM (or possibly HM [Hidden Machine]? It’s not like TMs work this way in the main series, so they could bend the rules a bit here too) is the most likely solution.

System Pros

Reduces Fear of Missing Out

This is a huge issue for many players. Have a good Pokemon? Better hold onto it for 6 months or more in case it gets a community day move. Caught a high-IV shiny Zapdos from a research breakthrough? Too bad it doesn’t have its event move. Adding this type of TM, even if extremely rare, would give players substantially more confident in their choices, and make the game more forgiving in general. 

More Inclusive for New Members

Back in the summer of 2016, pretty much everyone played Pokemon Go, so everyone had the same opportunities from the start. Nowadays, new players are at a disadvantage as they’ve missed out on countless events and legendary Pokemon, meaning they’re less likely to play for any length of time. While this is a mobile game and events come and go like with any other, the concept that it’s possible that Pokemon like Psystrike Mewtwo may never return to raids (though it very likely will) can be enough to make players returning to Pokemon Go stop after they realize just how much they’ve missed. This system would at least give them some degree of hope that they can catch up, even if their road is harder than it was for those that were there for initial releases.

System Cons

Removes Value from Pokemon

Legacy and Event Pokemon only have real value for one reason; their rarity. Without that, they’re just powerful Pokemon, even if they’re at the top of their niches. If they can be obtained at will, then this value evaporates as the window for obtaining them expands indefinitely.

Devalues Community Days (Less Revenue for Niantic)

Niantic doesn’t run Pokemon Go for fun, they run it because it turns a very large profit. For every event, it’s a sure thing that Niantic looks at their profits for the period and compares it to profits at other times to see what sells well. Enter Community Days! The reason that Community Days are still around is obviously that they’re profitable for Niantic, so giving players a reason to not partake in them (and maybe buy some Pokecoins on the side) is just not good business sense. The other answer would be to make these special TMs available in the shop, but that will begin to turn a game that’s largely fair to its free-to-play players towards a pay-to-win model.

Sword and Shield Alternative: TRs

In the latest generation of the Main Series, a new class of items was introduced: TRs, short for Technical Records. These work very much in the way that TMs of old did: each can be used once to teach a specific move, at which time they break. Using TRs, Niantic could add a new dimension to the game by giving us a new class of exclusive move that could only be added to any Pokemon, not just those who have Legacy and/or Exclusive moves.

It’s a bit hard to list the pros/cons to such a theoretical system, so instead let’s look at the potential implementation. This system could be done in a few ways:

Unlock Legacy/Community Day moves

Basically a new name for what we’ve already talked about.

Unlocks New Exclusive Moves

Each species of Pokemon could have a second movepool that could only be accessed via TRs, adding a whole new layer of depth to the whole system

Grants a Specific Move

Just like in the main series: give players a “TR Box”, and have each individual TR give a specific move that only specific Pokemon could learn. This would unlock a slew of exciting new items for players to hunt down and make every battle extremely interesting. 

Regardless of its implementation, this system would basically be like the existing system squared. Players would almost have to be able to trade TRs to make this all more manageable.

Conclusion

In many cases, Niantic seems to be going in a “leave good enough alone” sort of direction, so a change to the TM system seems somewhat unlikely at the time being, much less an overhaul like we’ve discussed in some of our points. Large changes have a high cost, so Niantic needs to know that this sort of investment is worth it. Want the system changed? Contact them and let them know, or tag them on social media with respectful recommendations. The key is to let them know that a change would be worth their investment. What do you think of these theoretical system changes? Do you have a favorite that you’d like to see implemented, another idea aside from these or even an opinion on any part of this? Let us know in the comments, as we really would like to hear from you!

About the Author(s)

Gamepress writer with a focus on theorycrafting and gameplay optimization. A Pokemon player since its inception, and a Pokemon Go player since day 1.

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