My name is Andrea, and I’m a 38–year-old Pokemon Go Player

I didn’t mean for it to be this way.

I was surrounded by a crowd of interns excitedly shouting that I had a pikachu on me. RIGHT THERE. AND I HAD NO IDEA.

But here I am, surreptitiously checking my iPhone as I stroll down the street to Starbucks between business meetings. I sneak a side glance at the gaggles of youth circling the neighborhood, abruptly stopping now and then and emitting shouts of excitement at their latest capture.

I am one of them. And I don’t even know who the Pokemon characters ARE.

So what is it about the game that appeals to me? While some of articles are claiming that it’s the brand and not the technology that holds most of the appeal, that’s not true in my case.

Pokemon Go is so addictive because… it was designed to be addictive.

In his book Hooked: How to build habit-forming products, Nir Eyal discusses a framework:

Nir Eyal deconstructs habit-forming products

Pokemon Go starts it off right: you spot your first Pokemon before you even have to sign up.

Trigger: ✅

The initial onboarding sequence is incredibly straightforward; you are directly guided into what you’re supposed to do:

Action: ✅

And before you even sign up, you already have captured a Pokemon! You’re already playing!

Reward: ✅
Investment: ✅

Two minutes after downloading the game, you’re already into the hook cycle.

The game has TONS of hooks sprinkled throughout, with variable rewards playing a huge part in the game design.

Variable reward systems keep people engaged much longer than something predictable.

There are three types of variable rewards:

  1. Hunt: Search for resources
  2. Self-achievement: Mastery and competency
  3. Tribe: Cooperation from working with others

Pokemon Go nails each of these. Tribe is an interesting aspect because there are teams within the game, but there is also an offline aspect where you’ll see hordes of people gathering to play in close proximity, even if they don’t receive any explicit system reward for doing so.

  • What are you going to get when you spin at a local pokestop?
  • Which Pokemon will you spot on your walk?
  • What’s going to hatch from that egg?
  • You leveled up!
  • You earned a medal!
  • You own a gym!

For me personally, one of the neat “tribe” aspects come from my working at a software company that is hosting a lot of summer interns. I feel a bit like a den mother as I head over to check in on how their games are going and what they’ve found. Except of course, I’m actively playing with and learning from them!

Would I have otherwise had as many interesting conversations with these brilliant students? Probably not, but it’s been a neat way to form a relationship with them (before the conversation turns to the latest GPU developments and my eyes glaze over a bit…)

So there we go. The logical and the emotional draw of the game. I’m intrigued by the game design, fully recognizing I’m subject to their addictive game mechanics, and I enjoy being part of a really big pop cultural phenomenon, and connecting with some cool people I may not have otherwise.

Will I “win” the game? Hmm, it just occurred to me I don’t even know if there is a way to “win”… maybe “complete” is a better phrasing? Turns out that isn’t a motivating factor for me. It’s an experience. One that I suspect will change mobile gaming from 2016 forward. Go ahead, give it a try — you’ll be hooked!

Sr UX Specialist with Canada Revenue Agency, former web dev and product person. 🔎 Lifelong learner. Unapologetic introvert. Plant-powered marathoner. Cat mom.

Sr UX Specialist with Canada Revenue Agency, former web dev and product person. 🔎 Lifelong learner. Unapologetic introvert. Plant-powered marathoner. Cat mom.