If you’ve been paying attention to anything I’ve done in the past few years, you know that I love Pokémon TCG Online and want it to succeed more than anything. While the program has made some advancements over the past few months, it has a history of disappointment and frustration for its fans. Of course, I’ve been there for all of it. From the lengthy maintenance to the ridiculous glitches, I’ve stuck with it. Two years later, we’re still sitting in the open beta with a new downloadable client… Call me crazy, but I’m still optimistic about the future of PTCGO. Moving forward, here are my thoughts on the problems with the program and how they need to be addressed.
The program is not user friendly.
As much as I love PTCGO, sometimes it feels like the designers are trying to make it difficult for us to use their program. Whenever I log into the program, I see the chat lobby filled with basic questions on how the program works.
“How do I get more cards?”
“How do I add friends?”
“What are the tokens for?”
“Why can’t I trade these cards?”
“Why can’t I get Plasma Storm cards???”
For experienced users who pay close attention to the game’s updates, these may not be troubling questions. But for a casual user, it might be the difference between having a new player and having someone give up and try something else. Without a doubt, some of the design choices on PTCGO are downright confusing, and many of them aren’t explained anywhere besides the official forums. For someone just logging in, there’s no way to know what is going on. From what I’ve seen, the average user doesn’t understand how everyone has Plasma Storm cards. After all, the packs aren’t in the shop. Thankfully they have started adding patch notes to every update to explain what’s going on; this is a step in the right direction.
To be frank, there are a few things that irritate and confuse even me, an experienced user. For example, I am welcomed by this screen when I start my client.
I want to start out by saying that the reward system is great. Without a doubt, this is a great thing that will attract tons of new players. Bravo to the design team for implementing this! Unfortunately, most of the time I can’t get past this screen. No matter how many times I click “OK,” it won’t budge. To get around it, I have to click to another section so that it disappears. Talk about annoying. If this happens to a new user, he might just get frustrated, quit, and never play again. Little things like these add up!
Next up, the whole friends list system is pretty confusing. Let’s take a look at it.
In the first tab, we have the pending friend requests that people send to you. Honestly it’s pretty straightforward. Just click “Accept” to add the person or “Decline” if you don’t want to. But for me, the buttons don’t work! I can click “Accept” until I get carpal tunnel, but it will not add that person to my friends list. Also most of the time I can’t scroll down to see all of my requests. Frustrating! Then we have the “Public” tab, which shows you everyone in your current chat lobby. Honestly this is a very useful feature that allows you to add people. I don’t have anything to complain about here beyond the fact that it’s limited to people only in your current lobby.
But then you get to the last tab, which shows your friends. Now unless the person you want to add is in your chat lobby, you must type that user’s name into your search box and hit Enter in order to send a request. For most people, this is not an intuitive thing, so it leaves them wondering how to add friends; this is not good. Anything that isn’t obvious to a new user probably needs to be fixed. How come there isn’t an easier way to add people? Perhaps a better search function or a way to click on someone’s name in the chat would provide easier options. We’re in the year 2013 where even the smallest applications have ways to integrate with Facebook and Twitter. Sadly, I could never see this happening in PTCGO.
Finally, we have the deck manager.
For the most part, I don’t have any problems with the deck manager. However, every single time I start the program, I get the same annoying problem. When I get to the deck section, it won’t let me select any of them! Most of the time, all I can do is click “New Deck.” Why can’t I select anything? I still have no idea, but it happens to me every time. Again, this is something frustrating that makes the experience less enjoyable for the user. As with most of the problems, I have found a way around it (but I shouldn’t have to). Once I click “New Deck” and quit out of it, everything functions properly. You might be thinking, “Pooka, this is a very small problem. Why are you talking about this?” Well, that’s my point; little things add up. I have encountered this small problem so many times that it has made my experience worse. Having to go through that process every time I want to edit my decks is arduous. Hopefully things like these get fixed quickly.
Some in-game mechanics are flawed.
For the most part, Pokémon TCG Online is a visually stunning program that does a great job of portraying the actual card game. Unfortunately, there are some flaws with the way they decided to design the gameplay. Probably the best way to explain this is through some pictures. First let’s take a look at the view of the field.
Why did they decide to do it this way? Sure, it gives you the feeling like you’re actually sitting down at a table and playing in real life. But in real life, I can lean over and look at what’s going on with ease. How come the cards are so far away? Personally I feel like an overhead shot would be much better. To make things worse, it’s fairly difficult to know what actually is attached to your opponent’s Pokémon. After you attach more than three Energy to a Pokémon, they just stack on top of each other, hiding how many are actually there. Unlike the old version of PTCGO, you cannot hover over a Pokémon and see how much Energy is attached. The only way to find out is to zoom in and use the arrows to count how many are there, which is very inconvenient. With the latest update, Tools also blend in with Energy, so you don’t know if there’s one attached to a Benched Pokémon. That brings me to my next point, Energy and Tools.
In the picture above, I am trying to use Tool Scrapper to remove an Eviolite from a benched Tornadus EX that has a Double Colorless attached. But I am unable to because the Energy is blocking the Tool! How does that make any sense? No matter how many times you click, you can’t select it. Several people have voiced the same complaint and told me that they have forfeited games because of it. In the past, the problem was that the Tool blocked the Energy from being accessed in these situations. So, if you tried to use Crushing Hammer to discard one or Hydreigon’s Dark Trance to move one, the Tool would block you from doing so. Clearly they tried to patch that problem by moving the Energy to the front… But now Tool Scrapper is faced with the same problem. Why not just move the Tool to the side of the Pokémon, like it is for Active Pokémon? Problem solved. Please implement this soon. For those wondering, you can get around this bug with a lengthy solution. If you right click on the Energy to zoom in, you can use the arrows to get to the Tool, and then click on it to discard it. Again, not very user friendly.
On top of these things, there are a few other little problems that are irritating to competitive players. First of all, you should always be able to check both players’ discard piles. In PTCGO you are unable to check discard piles during deck searches, while promoting a new Pokémon, and other situations. In fact, sometimes you just cannot click on a player’s discard pile at all, hiding that information from you for the entire game! On rare occasions, I am unable to click on most of my cards for the entirety of the game. What causes these problems? Nobody knows. Another problem is that the program doesn’t tell you how many cards your opponent has in hand, which becomes troublesome when hand sizes get big. Also, why are you able to undo some actions (attaching an Energy) but not others (using Deluge to attach)? Misclicks are a problem as well, but there’s probably no easy solution for that. Fortunately most of these small problems can be fixed, but they are annoying to deal with for the time being.
Lag, heap sections, etc. are painful.
For whatever reason, Pokémon TCG Online is plagued by a constant problem: lag. If you played on the original Flash browser based game, you’ll remember how unbearable the lag was. The longer you played, the worse it got; everything slowed down. Eventually the program would give out and give you a white screen with an exclamation point, and you’d have to restart everything. If anything frustrated people with the first version of PTCGO (besides the fact that bugs never got fixed), it was this. In general, people have very little patience. If we have to wait too long, eventually we will become irritated and do something else. Well, that’s exactly what happened. The lag never got fixed, and people stopped using PTCGO.
I fear that the same thing will happen to the new version of Pokémon TCG Online. Don’t get me wrong! Compared to the old one, it’s far better. But everyone I’ve talked to has had a similar complaint: lag. Whenever you do something, the program starts to run a little slower. Switching between the home screen and the deck builder? The program takes forever to load the new screen, and everything gets noticeably slower. Want to get to the trade section? Expect your program to slow down even more. For some reason, everything you do takes up more and more memory on your computer. Have you ever looked at how much it actually takes up as you play? Let’s just say PTCGO uses more RAM than Starcraft 2 does. For those who aren’t computer literate, it’s like if a toaster uses more electricity than a television; something is wrong. Eventually it becomes overloaded, and this happens…
Ah yes, the dreaded “Too many heap sections” error message. If you’ve never encountered this pest, consider yourself lucky. For those who watch my streams, you know that I encounter the heaps at least two or three times a night. Basically this is the program’s way of telling you, “Hey, we ran out of memory. See ya.” Just like that, PTCGO crashes! You are forced to shut it down and restart it, and whatever you were doing is lost. If you were in the middle of a game, too bad; you lose. If you were building a deck, tough luck! You have to make it again. Hands down, this is the worst part about the program. How can a card game take up so much memory that it crashes? Clearly this is a problem that needs to be fixed as soon as possible. As much as I love PTCGO, I find myself losing patience with the game crashing so often. Sometimes I’ll just leave the program on when I leave the room, and I’ll come back 15 minutes later to see it crashed without me doing anything! In fact, it just happened to me while I was writing this! I know for a fact that people have stopped playing PTCGO because of this. It makes using the game exhausting and extremely time consuming.
Speaking of time consuming, let’s talk about the trading system. Overall, it’s adequate. If I want to put out an offer for a card, I can do it. Trading exists, and it works. But let’s look at how you have to do it.
When you want to add a card to a trade, you have to go through this screen every time. Sure, everything works. You search for the card you want to trade, select it, and then click “OK.” But you have to do that for each individual card! If I want to add four cards to a trade, I have to go through this entire process four times – even if it’s the exact same card! How annoying is that? In the original version of PTCGO, you could drag the cards you wanted into the trade and keep moving along. Surprisingly enough, they got it right the first time and made it worse this time around. For me, this has made trading a complete drag. It takes forever to put up trades with this system. One time I was putting together a big trade with a bunch of cards, and I got “Too many heap sections” before I could send the offer. The game crashed. I didn’t open PTCGO again for a while.
The public trade system also needs some work. Unfortunately, this is the default tab for the trade section, which means all of the public trades need to load every time you head over here. Why not start off in something that doesn’t slow the game down immensely, like creating a new offer? Beyond that, the section shows you only a fraction of what public trades are out there. In the old system, there was a button that allowed you to see beyond the initial screen so you could see more offers. No such feature exists now. If you want to find more, you’ll have to search.
For the most part, the search feature is okay, but it has its flaws. For example, it doesn’t allow searching for things with spaces, so you can’t specify whether you’re looking for Victini or Victini EX. The worst case for this is Kyurem. Which one do you want? Black Kyurem, Black Kyurem EX, White Kyurem, White Kyurem EX, Kyurem, or Kyurem EX? There is no good way to search for the specific one you want, and that is a problem. If you search for something with too many results, the program will freeze up. Try searching for “booster” one time and watch how quickly PTCGO locks up. For a lot of people, trading is the best part of the game. Until things get fixed, it’s not really fun for anyone.
Honestly the worst part about PTCGO is that everything seems to be more work than necessary. If you’ve ever redeemed a bunch of codes, you know exactly what I mean. After inputting all of them, you’re relieved to be done. It’s time to open some packs! But wait, first you have to claim all of them. So, after you check all of the boxes and click the button to claim all of them, it’s time to open those packs finally! Sure, but first you have to click “OK” for every single pack you just got. If you redeemed 100 packs, you now have to click that button one hundred times. Why? It’s just lazy programming honestly. There’s no reason I should ever have to click something that many times. But this small feature leads to large frustrations from anyone using the game.
Some cards are not accessible.
Anyone who has been playing recently knows that Tropical Beach has been an important card in a lot of decks, mainly Blastoise/Keldeo. You know what card you can’t access on Pokémon TCG Online? Tropical Beach! Since it wasn’t released in an actual set, there is no way to get it online. How can the official game for playing the Pokémon Trading Card Game not have all of the cards for the current Modified format available? Just based on this, it makes using the program for actual testing impossible. Surely it can’t be that difficult to program an extra few cards into the game, especially ones that make such a difference. You know what the most aggravating thing is, though? Look at this.
Some of the cards are programmed into the game already! As you can see, Tropical Tidal Wave exists in PTCGO… You just can’t get it. Why not? Nobody knows. Eventually we may be able to access these cards, but it sure is frustrating to know that we can’t get them now. Until we can play with every legal card on this program, it cannot be taken seriously as a legitimate testing grounds for the Pokémon TCG. Isn’t it sad that most people don’t use the official program for playing the game? Most of the competitive players opt to use PlayTCG instead because it has all of the cards.
Up to this point, I have been very critical of Pokémon TCG Online. Some of it may seem harsh. But unless the community speaks up and makes the problems known, they probably won’t change. And after all of these complaints, I am optimistic about the future of the program. Why? Well, all of these problems are small things that can be fixed over time. In fact, a lot of improvements have been made lately. It’s only fair to give credit where credit is due. Let’s look at some things that are going right!
Communication is improving.
Anyone who played the original PTCGO remembers how many glitches there were. Eviolite didn’t work, Victini allowed your opponent to choose whether you could reflip or not, etc. When you’re implementing new cards and mechanics in a game, some bugs are to be expected. Once your users report the bugs, you can fix them; this happens with every game. The problem for PTCGO was that nobody ever listened. Instead of fixing the glitches, they stayed the same forever! From the beginning of the closed beta until its death more than a year later, Defender never was patched to reduce self damage in the original version. How ridiculous is that? For players, this is extremely upsetting. It caused even the most dedicated players to give up on the program once and for all. Why would you keep playing if nothing got fixed?
Thankfully things have changed. With a new staff in place, our complaints are being heard – and they are being addressed. Now that Mike Liesik is the PTCGO Community Manager, we have a good line of communication between the players and the developers. Here is the difference. In the old version, glitches never got fixed. New sets were implemented before old cards were even fixed, and, of course, the new cards also had glitches. When PTCGO 2.0 began, people were afraid that the same thing was happening. A Pokémon with Rescue Scarf didn’t give up a prize, Garchomp was discarding Special Energy attached to Benched Pokémon, and more. So we complained and let the developers know about the problems. Most people expected nothing to happen, and everyone chalked it up as another part of the PTCGO fiasco.
But guess what? They listened. They fixed the bugs. In the beginning of the downloadable client era, I compiled a list of about 100 glitches that were found with the game. Recently I went back, and nearly every one had been fixed! (Unfortunately, the heap sections problem is one of the few still remaining.) If anything, this shows that the new staff is dedicated to cleaning up the game and making sure it works. Having tested with Plasma Storm a lot, I can say that there are very few bugs with the cards, which is incredible given how many new mechanics are involved. Sure, there are a few problems here and there, but I’m sure they will be addressed soon.
As you can see there, the developers are working diligently to improve the program. I dream of a world where one day I can play Pokémon TCG Online without the game crashing… With this staff in charge, I am confident my dream will become a reality in the near future. As the players in the community, we must do our part to help improve PTCGO. If this succeeds, the Pokémon TCG as a whole gets a huge boost. Even though it’s frustrating to deal with glitches, if we don’t find them and report the problems, things won’t get better. Think of how awesome it will be to have a fully functional game one day.
Changes are coming.
Heck, some of the changes are here already. One of the first changes is the rewards system. I’m sure pretty much all of us can agree that this is a good thing. For those of us who log in every day, now there’s a payoff! Most of the days you just get tokens (which we’ll discuss later), but every few days you get a free booster pack! This is great for a few reasons. First of all, it makes people want to play more, and it rewards loyal players for continuing to come back. Beyond that, though, it gives new players opportunities to get more cards without spending money. Sure, it may be just a few packs, but that’s all it can take to reel in someone new. If you give people some extra cards to edit their starter decks, they may become interested enough to invest some money into the game and start playing more seriously. Also, the packs (and the cards inside them) are untradable, meaning there is no way to abuse the free card system. Sure, it may be annoying that you can’t get rid of them, but it’s for the best. Overall, the rewards system is the best thing that has happened to PTCGO in a long time.
Looking ahead, there are some big changes on the horizon. For starters, it was announced that tokens will be useful soon! Up until now, tokens were some meaningless reward you got for playing a game. But now you’ll be able to redeem those for cards! No further information has been released yet, but you will be able to obtain cards in exchange for your tokens. Along with this, gems will be available soon, which are the in-game currency for PTCGO. As weird as it sounds, finally you’ll be able to… give them your money. It’s a wonder that gems haven’t been implemented sooner, but it sounds like finally we’re getting there.
Trust me, I am well aware of all of the flaws with Pokémon TCG Online. Arguably nobody else has put more time into the program than I have. But I implore you to stick with it. Don’t give up on PTCGO; it is necessary for the growth of the game. Right now it looks like a distant future, but one day the program will be fixed completely. We will have online tournaments. We will be able to play games smoothly. We will have a fun platform to play the game we love on. Until then, I will endure my heap sections and inexplicable bugs. And it will be worth it.