5 min read

Since its release, Pokémon Go has taken the world by storm. It’s the must-have new mobile game to be playing (and it’s also the must-blog new topic for almost any content site on the net). So what’s made it so successful – and what can other app designers seek to learn from the Pokémon Go experience?

The Pokémon Go World from the Packt Office

In Packt’s Skill Up 2016 Report we revealed the one topic almost all developers were convinced was going to be the next big thing – augmented reality. So is Pokémon Go a quick AR fad, or the shape of things to come? We think it’s the latter, and here’s some of the lessons app developers can learn from its success.

Content Will Be Key

The key to Pokémon Go’s success is not its gameplay – it’s that it’s a Pokémon game. Imagine Pokémon Go with identical mechanics but some other original variety of small monster to hunt and battle with. There’s no way it would be as successful (at least so soon after release).

Partially, this is because Pokémon has had twenty years to become a classic IP. Partially, this is because Pokémon is a very good IP – imaginative and recognizable characters about whom it is fun and easy to create and tell stories. Pokémon is a highly successful piece of intellectual property, which has contributed enormously to Pokémon Go being a highly successful app.

What does this mean for app design?

Good content is key to success. It’s not just enough to have a neat gameplay mechanic or a cool feature – you need a good story too. Very few developers are going to have the resources to be able to create or license something as popular as Pokémon. But Ingress (the other augmented reality game from Niantic) boasts over seven million players for a game with its own rich and entirely original story. Facebook thrives on its ability to serve us up relevant content. Content is vital now – and is only going to be even more vital in the future.

It Will Run Its AR on Wearables

Playing Pokémon Go is probably the first time your average member of the public has been properly disappointed that Google Glass failed. As an app, it is one of the first I have used where running it primarily through wearables rather than the phone device would be amazingly beneficial.

Nintendo is way ahead of us here – one of the ways it’s seeking to monetize Go is through the Pokémon Go Plus wearabale device. The device’s function is simple: it vibrates when there’s a Pokémon in the vicinity, saving you the need to always have your phone on hand with the app open.

What does this mean for app design?

Pokémon Go is the first app which really benefits from integration with wearables. This is heavily tied to the physicality of its gameplay. And sure, Pokémon Go is a game – but is it just a game? As Chris Dixon said way back in 2010, “the next big thing will start out looking like a toy”. Pokémon Go shows us augmented reality on the common smartphone, and the experience is less than ideal. There will be better devices built for this new kind of AR app and those devices will be wearables.

There Will Be Physical Benefits That Won’t Be the Primary Reason For Use

Did you know that Pokémon Go is actually an exercise app? Niantic head John Hanke has noted that one of the principle ‘secret’ goals of Pokémon Go is to encourage people to exercise more. In interview with Business Insider, he notes:

“Pokémon Go” is designed to get you up and moving by promising you Pokémon as rewards, rather than placing pressure on you.

Users are hailing the hidden benefits of Pokémon Go making them exercise, including the mood boost of getting outside. Whilst it’s not as good as a dedicated fitness app for those looking to get amazingly in shape, people often feel better for exercise. Pokémon Go has not tried to gamify fitness – it’s a made the benefits of exercise and exploring the outdoors a subtle reward for engaging with its main game.

In this, Pokémon comes full circle. Popular legend claims that the initial 90s video game was inspired by the creator’s boyhood hobby of bug collecting – something he was concerned was no longer possible for kids in the modern world. He made a virtual alternative – Pokémon. Now, twenty years later, that virtual alternative is moving back into the physical realm once more.

What does this mean for app design?

The future is not about virtual reality, but augmented reality – and the same is true for apps. The next generation of killer apps and games isn’t going to be about replacing our real-world experiences, it’s going to be about taking those virtual experiences back into the real world.

Social Will Be Social

The return of a virtual experience to the real world can be seen most clearly in the social communities which Pokémon Go has created. But these are not the virtual communities of Friends Lists and Twitter followers. These are real people meeting in real physical spaces to build their communities. Businesses are investing in buying lures for Pokémon from the microtransaction store in order to attract customers to their business and apparently, it’s working. Can Facebook advertising do that for your coffee shop or bar?

What does this mean for app design?

We can only speculate how other apps might implement and expand on Pokémon Go’s virtual/physical community cross over. However, we’ve already seen an integration of augmented reality and the Yelp App for a similar ‘local business enhancing’ experience. Whether it’s accessing people’s Facebook pages from facial recognition, or more games and apps that encourage physical closeness to other players, we can be sure that we’re going to see a lot more apps encouraging ‘social’ that’s actually real-world social interaction.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here