We’ve all seen the explosion of Pokemon Go: the app hit number 1 in app stores pretty much immediately. Not only is it breaking records in terms of numbers of users, it’s ballooned Nintendo’s market value and actually changed the behavior of thousands of users, who are frequently seen doing fairly ridiculous things.
The media has tossed every angle at this new phenomena, trying to paint it as destructive or dangerous. That may or may not be true, but its popularity is undisputed: Pokemon Go has surpassed Tinder in downloads. Yup, this game is bigger than…romance.
The popularity of Pokemon Go is due to a perfect storm of simple game theory and social conditions: brand affiliation, augmented reality, low barrier of entry, compulsion loops, and endorphins.
Get ready – we’re diving deep.
1. History and Brand Affiliation
Pokemon creator Satoshi Tajiri’s work spawned a behemoth in gaming, and included card games and television shows – all starting from a simple game for Game Boy. Up until Pokemon, handheld experiences were isolated. Pokemon broke down those barriers by allowing players to face off against or trade with their friends. You could also fully customize the 151 characters, which was brand new at that time. The personal touch enhanced the connection to the brand and established the deep nostalgia we’re seeing in millennials today.
Younger kids – true digital natives – are discovering the franchise for the first time on their medium of choice: smartphones. Parents who played the Game Boy version as kids are even playing the new app version with their kids. The summer release of Pokemon Go also means the weather is prime for getting out of the house and exploring on foot. Plus school is out, giving younger kids plenty of free time. Cue the masses.
2. AR and Viral
Snapchat has essentially paved the way for the augmented reality aspect of Pokemon Go. For years we have been taking things from outside the computer and placing them inside the interface so that we can understand the function. We make a “trash can” look like a trash can in our digital interfaces because that is a metaphor that we can understand. As people spend more time in front of a computer, the reverse is happening. We’re taking the functionality from computers and smartphones and placing it in the outside world. Fantasy, meet reality.
3. Low Barrier of Entry
This game is simple to play, learn and understand, meaning the audience can be wide and varied. Creating an effective game – one that brings in new players, keeps old ones, and makes money off of some of those who stay – is becoming more difficult. Games have become more complex as the technology of mobile devices increases, but Pokemon Go, while complex in terms of technology, is simple. It’s also super accessible: partly because of the brand affiliation, and partly because it doesn’t require a separate console.
4. Compulsion Loops
The Compulsion Loop is core to most games. The best ones have multiple compulsion loops and this game is no exception. The loop comprises three stages, each enhancing the next, so players keep improving.
Pokemon Go’s compulsion loop is simple:
- Collect stuff to catch Pokemon
- Collect Pokemon
- Level Pokemon
Brands like Starbucks have used gamification tactics to drive customer loyalty. Users of Starbucks’ My Rewards accumulate points every time they purchase, but it doesn’t stop there. The program also has 3 levels based on the degree of loyalty, with more personalized rewards the higher you go in order to keep customers engaged.
5. Neurological Reward Systems A.K.A. Endorphins
Video games are known for producing mood boosting chemicals (called endorphins) as a reward for a mainly motionless task. You sit down and complete a level, your brain recognizes your achievement, and you get hit with an endorphin rush. Pokemon Go does exactly this with every Pokemon catch. But you know what else is good at producing endorphins? Exercise. And when you get gamers off the couch and out chasing Pokemon, the brain gets a double hit of the good stuff.
There is one more addition to the brain chemical mix that plays into the popularity of Pokemon Go: social interaction. The social interactions from Pokemon Go produce a large rush of endorphins, creating a triple whammy of feel-good chemicals. Countless games and apps have the two previous reward systems but have not exploded in popularity as Pokemon Go has. The holy trinity.
Key Takeaways for Retailers and Brands
- Experience is holistic. It’s not just about what happens behind the screen. With mobile, the environment is tied to the experience. When someone goes to a bank machine they are not just interacting with the screen in front of them. They are influenced by the line behind them, time of day, whether they feel safe, and the time crunch they are feeling. This plays into the user experience of every interaction and with mobile devices this has to be taken into consideration.
- AR is the future. With features like geolocation, image recognition, and object tracking, it makes sense that augmented reality, when combined with a mobile device, will make our world a better place. By combining our love for social media and need to understand our world around us with technology, AR bridges needs and motivations of a variety of users. Companies need to be aware of this and look for opportunities to develop more immersive and expansive mobile experiences.
- Pay attention to neurological reward systems in all designs. Finding ways to simply reward users for rudimentary tasks goes a long way to the prolonged use of your product.
There are plenty of examples of flash in the pan viral explosions such as Pokemon Go. Remember Words With Friends? Me neither.
But early indications are that Pokemon Go might have more legs than other fads. The game already has more users than Twitter, but regardless of whether Pokemon Go is here to stay or not, companies can learn a lot from a customer-first brand like this. Already Go-themed bar crawls are being planned, and there are multiple meetup groups across cities everywhere. There is even a Pokemon Go dating app in the works.
If a retail brand can get even a small percentage of the amount of traction that Pokemon Go has seen, they will be well on their way to success.
Long story short, this is the Summer of Pokemon Go.