What Engineers Can Learn From Pokemon Go

Pokemon Go is a smartphone game that combines video games with the real world. Instead of sitting on the couch with a controller in your hands, you have to walk around your neighborhood parks and beaches to find and catch creatures in the game. Once you’ve caught enough pokemon, you can power some of them up and then “battle” them at certain landmarks called gyms.

There is little doubt that you’ve seen kids and adults alike walking around playing this game. It’s free, fresh, and appeals to the millennial generation’s nostalgia. The internet is now full of news stories of folks doing less than intelligent things and getting hurt playing the game, Best Buy is now sold out of portable USB battery packs players use to extend their battery, and Niantic Labs and The Pokemon Company (the folks who created the game) are making a killing.

BUT, the game is starting to fizzle as it fails to keep people invested. Today’s blog post is to look at why and see how it can apply to engineering and tech startups.

1) Understand the user’s end goal

It doesn’t matter what you are selling, you have to understand what your users are actually after. You can have every bell and whistle ever made, but if you don’t fill a need, your product will fail. In the case of Pokemon Go, there are three end goals as far as the game itself is concerned: catch as many pokemon as possible and make them as strong as possible to take control of gyms. Catching pokemon is easy – you simply walk around and wait for one of the creatures to spawn and then flick virtual traps called “pokeballs” at the critter until it stays caught. Strengthening your pokemon is not particularly hard either. Which each caught pokemon comes in-game currencies called “stardust” and “candies” that can be saved to power up your zoo.

Where the game fails is in the current gym mechanics – they are extremely easy to take away from the folks who have earned them and just as easy to lose them to other people. This makes the game wholly unsatisfying; all your hard work and miles walked are for nothing. After you’ve caught a large number of different species of pokemon and powered them up, the ONLY thing you have left is the gyms. If the gym system sucks, you are left with almost nothing.

The only thing that is keeping this game afloat is that it appeals to those wanting entertainment while exercising and, to a small degree, those who are looking for a community. I say that the last point is small simply by watching how people play in my area. With the exception of people yelling “there’s a pikachu over here!”, most folks play completely alone or with a single friend.

2) Be aware of past products and their interfaces

Nostalgia is what is driving this game short and simple. There are far more twenty-somethings playing this game than young kids because Pokemon reaches into our childhoods. We were the ones who watched the show every Saturday, played every gameboy game, stole each other’s Pokemon cards, and fell asleep with the technicolor plushies on our beds.

Along with all the happy memories comes happy memories of the interface. In the games of yore, you battled other trainers and gym leaders in a turn based system. Each creature had a set of four different moves that could be combined strategically to win a battle. Some moves might cause your opponent to become paralyzed, confused, poisoned, and more which would give you the upper hand. To be truly good at the game, it took more than just powerful pokemon, it took skill and smarts.

If we look at the Pokemon Go game, we see something entirely different – instead of strategic, turn based moves like before, you are frantically tapping the screen in wild hopes that you can get in more attacks than the AI controlling the gym pokemon does. The fun part of battling has gone completely out the window alienating people who loved the games those many years ago. As this game was targeted to twenty somethings and not school kids, this is a pretty major mistake.

In a larger engineering context, we can use this to look at something often forgot by startups and tech companies – you can have the greatest product in the world, but if you don’t pay attention to precedent, you are setting yourself up for failure. Past functionalities, while they may not be needed for a new product to work, and may even detrimental to the product, are needed by people on a psychological and emotional level to adopt the product.

 

By | 2017-01-20T19:59:30+00:00 August 7th, 2016|Random Rants|0 Comments

About the Author:

I'm an electrical and controls engineer with experience in C++, C#, Sequencer Programming (ie "Game Loop), a little bit of graphic design, 3D modeling, and bits and bobs of a lot of game design.

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