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The user experience of Pokémon Go

Chris Former UX Consultant 22nd Jul, 2016
Pokemon Go

I love Pokémon. I have played every iteration of the game, watched the show and collected all the cards. So I am all for new or old players coming to experience the franchise.

But there is just something lacking in Pokémon Go compared to the mainstays of the Pokémon family of games. It has a horrible user experience and it’s hard to believe that Pokémon Go is making its parent company $1.5 million each day while doubling Nintendo’s share price in the space of one week. In this article, I explore its flaws and why people are willing to put up with them.

First, let’s talk about the bugs…

Pokemon character catching bugs

Pokémon GO has more bugs than a bug catcher can deal with, including:

  • loading the map but none of the content
  • failure to login
  • requesting login every time you open the app
  • inconsistent GPS and jumping all over the city
  • catching a Pokémon but not registering it is caught
  • game crashing or freezing
  • severe battery drain
  • Pokémon spawning on a Pokéstop and can’t be interacted with
  • clicking on a Pokémon and just seeing ‘error’ come up as the Pokémon disappears
  • the ‘nearby’ Pokémon feature being broken on the map
  • slow game performance
  • the need to have the game open to hatch eggs.

To add to these problems, there has been very little communication from the developer (Niantic) on when fixes are coming, what issues are being experienced and possible solutions. These issues would normally be enough to sink any release of a product alone, yet the power of the Pokémon IP is causing players to push through its growing pains and develop solutions of their own.

  • Battery pack sales have gone up with players trying to cater to the games problems. Power packs shaped like Pokéballs have been cashing in on the extent some players are going to.
  • Guides for ‘how to play’ have been written by countless sites in an effort to explain some of the basics of the interface or game mechanics.
  • Pokémon radars have been developed to help with the ‘nearby’ issue experienced in the game.
  • Third party websites have even been created to do the job of the developer through communication, indicating if the Pokémon Go servers are online or not.

Nostalgia and augmented reality (AR)

So why is this so? The answer lies in Pokémon Go unleashing a powerful combination of nostalgia and augmented reality (AR). Many people are enjoying coming back to Pokémon after it played being such memorable part of their childhood (whether it be through the show, trading cards or original games).

The game also appeals to the hunter-and-gather within all of us. Collecting things is the essence of the Pokémon series; its creator Satoshi Tajiri was an avid collector of insects since he was a boy, and he wanted to recreate that same childhood fascination with the idea that your collection becomes a part of you – due to the journey that you have both gone through. Team this with easily accessible technology (AR) and you have a recipe for success. (The affect AR has on audiences is similar to that of the original Wii, which captivated countless gamers through its unique use of motion controls.) People feel as though they’re part of something bigger than a game of fringe group; they’re part of a movement.

So where is the Pokémon I want?

Pokemon character carrying game console

The exploration and collecting is without a doubt exactly what I want from a game in Pokémon Go, but so many other key aspects are missing (technical issues aside).

Pokémon that grow with you

I want my favourite Pokémon to come on the journey with me, and grow in power as I grow in power. Currently the game requires you to catch multiple copies of the same Pokémon to level it up. This means that the connection is shattered with Pokémon simply placed into a meat grinder to power up another one. No longer is it exciting to find a rare Pokémon, because unless I find another 30 of them, it is useless to me.

Player interaction

There is no interaction with the people directly beside me. Key aspects such as trading Pokémon or trainer battling have been removed from the game. There is a small remnant of it with the blue, red and yellow teams you join during the game, but this is so far removed from a personal experience. I want to share these experiences with my friends and have a greater sense of connection to them – whether this is through social elements, limited time events we can both attend, clans we can create and competitions to partake in. The original Pokémon had Gary Oak as your rival pushing you to greater heights because he was always two steps ahead of you – this drive is now missing.

A greater purpose

Where is the story? Although Pokémon has always had a weak story, I’m sure there could be a little more narrative integrated with Pokémon Go. Destinations (Pokécentres, Marts) could be used to unlock conversations with characters for new items or Pokémon. Why else would I want to get to level 20? Is this just for my own goals or does this allow me to enter tournaments and start to complete in Pokémon’s version of the Olympics?

Gameplay mechanics

While the game’s minimal explanation of system interfaces or how to play could be a good thing (as it causes you to explore and try new things), it can also lead to frustration and key features being lost. The current implementation of gym battles is incredibly shallow and boring. You simply tap as fast as you can and swipe occasionally to win, rather than turn-based fighting and strategy in the main games, which I’d prefer to see.

Will Pokémon Go survive the road ahead?

Some of these features we’d like to see are expected to arrive. The initial promo for the game was a year ago, and at the time its developers said these features would exist. Niantic is not new to this space (it previously launched a similar game Ingres) so it should understand how to meet the needs of the players over time.

However, I am still concerned that Pokémon Go as we know it is just an MVP (minimum viable product). While it has experienced rapid growth, it may be short-lived. Without a better user experience, players may finally give up on working around Pokémon Go’s problems and the game will end up not being the long-lasting phenomenon it could have been.

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About The Author

Chris Former UX Consultant

Chris combines a strategic understanding and application of research methods with a passion for digital (the perfect blend of skills for an experience researcher!). He enjoys incorporating the latest gadgets in his approach. Experienced in both qualitative and quantitative methods, he contributed to projects through discovery work as well as validation of designs and experiences.

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