Unless you've been living under a rock - and it's election season, so I wouldn't blame you if you were - you are familiar with the mobile gaming phenomenon Pokémon GO. On its release date, the game topped both iOS and Android app stores, and within days had more average daily users than any other mobile game in history. Since its release, the game has made daily headlines. Newsworthy, albeit unintended, consequences of playing the game have included getting shot at, getting robbed, and finding the occasional dead body.
I remember the morning Frank introduced me to Pokémon GO like it was last month (because it was). He saw it as an effective application of augmented reality, a technology of interest for military training. Next thing I knew, a cute little purple furball was perched atop my computer. Within minutes, and in regular intervals throughout the day, I was chasing Pokémon through the Incubator parking lot and sneaking across the street to load up on pokéballs at the pokéstop in front of the UCF Innovation Center. Despite having no understanding of what a Pokémon was, what they did, or even really the point of the game, I was fascinated because whatever these things were, they were in my office. I went downtown that Friday night to do some "field research," and joined a horde of people doing laps around Lake Eola brought together by a "lure" and the understanding that more players equals better Pokémon. I was having conversations with people in my neighborhood I'd never met, but now visibly had something in common with. By the time I got to the I/ITSEC paper review two weeks ago, I was a fierce advocate, defending the game as everything the military is looking for in a training technology rolled into one: augmented reality, handheld sensors, big data, ad hoc teams…I was intrigued by the potential to control and move hundreds of people toward city centers and the possibility of improving players' fitness through walking required to hatch Pokémon eggs.
I was going to write about all that. This was going to be about how Pokémon GO had changed my life and doubtlessly the course of history. But before I could find the time to pull a post together, I had already stopped playing. To be fair, I am easily distracted. So, I asked several friends and fellow players, and found many of them had also quit. Could the Pokémania already have peaked?
Maybe so. While the only people who know the true daily use statistics of Pokémon GO are the folks at Niantic, Survey Monkey collects and provides data on mobile application usage from a large, representative sample of users. (Update: The Survey Monkey link is no longer active however, izideo also discusses the use statistics of Pokémon GO.) The data are collected from consumers of their mobile app, who agree to share their usage data for research purposes. According to their data, usage of Pokémon GO peaked on July 14, a week after the game was released. Of course, it's only been a month, and these data will likely change as the app is updated and new features are integrated. However, a steep drop in usage would be a concern. The inherently collaborative nature of the game may be its downfall; if nobody else is playing it around you, it's just not very fun.
It turns out I'm not the only one asking this question. The writers at Game Informer asked their readers if they were still playing, and it seems interest may be waning. While I would definitely not recommend drawing conclusions based on the comments section of a webpage, some of the frustrations expressed speak to aspects of good game design and execution. So what's going on? Here are a few thoughts based on my experience:
Access. From the minute it was released, the game servers started crashing. Since then, there have been numerous bugs with the game. On my phone, it freezes up frequently, often right as I catch or hatch a Pokémon. If it doesn't work, you can't play, and if users can't trust your software from the get go, they're not likely to give it another chance.
Challenge. Key to game design is providing the right amount of challenge. Like many games, "leveling up" requires earning increasingly more points. However, the challenge must be both meaningful and positive; the player needs to feel like they are making progress to a goal. While you gain access to rarer Pokémon at higher levels, they are few and far between. Players may not feel a sense of accomplishment frequently enough to bother looking for them.
Control. While there is a fair amount of turnover at Pokémon gyms, the player has little physical control over whether their team wins during a battle. It mainly comes down to Combat Power and the type of Pokémon you play, and all battling entails is poking your opponent with your finger. Even when I took over a gym, which I did exactly once, I didn't feel like I had a lot to do with it. With the latest update, Niantic removed the ability to determine how far away the closest Pokémon are, taking away an element of control players previously had.
Surprise. Novelty is fundamental to good game design. A central idea behind this game is that different Pokémon can be found in different environments. However, most people frequent the same places daily. I, for one, can no longer be bothered to catch the Pidgeys and Rattatas that have infested my neighborhood. After 2 days in downtown Cincinnati, I determined the city was plagued with Golbats, and that was about it. By the time I quit, I hadn't caught a new Pokémon in days, and I filled a little over a third of the Pokedex. This is why the timing of the release of new features and updates is so important in keeping your users engaged.
How about you? Are you still playing? Or did you get bored too?
Finally, some Army guidance on Pokémon GO.