Pokémon Go: what developers can learn from this app

Pokémon Go: what developers can learn from this app
Pokémon Go: what developers can learn from this app


No one can deny that the summer of 2016 is the summer of Pokémon Go. No other app in recent times has had such an impact on its users. The game, developed by Niantic, involves players hunting for Pokémons, then training these “creatures” in friendly gyms and vying with other teams to control these spaces. This is arguably the best possible guide to understanding the keys of the game. The figures for the Nintendo-linked product are genuinely mind-boggling.

The game has recently been launched in several Latin American countries, and was already present in the US, Australia, New Zealand and Europe –highlighting its planetary potential. It has been downloaded over 75 million times from Apple Store (iOS) and Google Play (Android). And by mid-June Nintendo had doubled its stock market value thanks to the impact of Pokémon Go (a growth of almost 120%), although recently the enthusiasm of the market has suffered its first hiccup. There is no doubt that the figures confirm its spectacular success with the public, and app developers may possibly be able to learn some interesting lessons from its impact.

The power of gamification

Gamification is not a new concept in the world of apps. In fact it has become almost an essential component of any mobile product, in whatever sector: media, banks and major tourist operators all use a combination of gaming and rewards to create loyalty among their users and convert them into customers. The idea is to ensure that downloads continue growing and the quality metrics (for example the conversion rate) improve. 

This development space is closely related to mobile consumption and the new habits and needs of young people (the Millennium Generation). In the case of Pokémon Go, users can set goals that encourage them to reach their targets. The use of augmented reality applied to an fun concept like Pokémon has become a winning combination. Thanks to the Niantic product, gamification, rewards and augmented reality (a technology that has been in the headlines of the specialist media for some time but is still not familiar to users) will be the three keys to success on which many other apps will place their hopes for the future.

Connecting with others and with the virtual world

It has often been said that smartphones allow us to access real-time information 24/7/365, but that we are in fact isolated from our surroundings. And this is not only due to cellphones, but to much of the technology that experts say today will decide our present and future. The recent publication of a photo showing Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg walking into a company presentation at the recent World Mobile Congress in Barcelona caused considerable controversy. The whole audience was seen wearing Facebook’s virtual reality glasses, giving a disturbing impression of isolation and of absolute power in the hands of a technology giant.

Pokémon Go inspires mixed feelings: on the one hand the app encourages players to set off on solitary walks to find and hunt down Pokémons, absorbed in their smartphone screen; and on the other it creates a community around shared interests, promotes alliances between players to compete with others, and generates an interesting connection between the online and offline world, connected by augmented reality. It also motivates players to engage in physical activity (it makes walking more fun as they search for the 150 different species of “monsters”), and that incentivizes the concept of a personalized app. “This is me, but within an alternative world, connecting to my real world, to capture Pokémons and earn rewards.” 

So far, no developer has done anything like this with remotely similar success. Even the developers of Pokémon Go themselves had tried their luck years earlier in the field of augmented reality with Ingress, a game which converted the real world into a game of mystery and competition (once again gamification and a mixture of online and offline). That app helped Niantic learn and apply the same concept with a more powerful hook like the Pokémon series. In the end they have made the dream having these creatures living among us a reality. Other developers can draw two conclusions: connecting the tangible and the intangible world can be attractive to users, and we can always learn lessons from past products that can help us in the future.

Preserve and enhance the product’s essence

The Niantic developers launched an app programming interface to allow third-party programmers to contribute to the Pokémon Go experience, while at the same time thwarting other companies’ chances of developing unofficial APIs for the game. Their goal is to safeguard the app’s essential character. Many of these allowed the creation of bots that made it easier to automate the game –but without the fun of capturing and training the Pokémons yourself–, and apps and projects like Find’Em All, Pokevision, PokeHound and PokeNotify geolocated the elusive creatures and gave tips on how to find them. These APIs in some way denaturalized the basic features of the game. For the time being, Niantic’s official API has no documentation for developers. 

These services around Pokémon Go largely arose after the app’s tracking system for the Pokémons broke. This feature –which was included in the first version and is now available again– enabled users to locate Pokémons at a distance of 300 metros by observing their tracks. This failure caused considerable instability in the game, which third-party developers set out to exploit. Now Niantic has taken control of the creation of complementary services for Pokémon Go with the launch of its own API. A wise move.

Here are a couple of videos of an interview with the developers of Pokémon Go

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