What makes Pokemon Go so fun?

Pokemon Go has been blowing up this week. As a product manager, I like to figure out what make products great, so here’s what’s I like about Pokemon Go.

What makes Pokemon Go so fun?

Pokemon Go is nostalgic because it fulfills the childhood dream of actually being a Pokemon trainer, except now we’re adults so we can go whereever we want and we have no curfew. Attributing it’s success to just nostalgia is oversimplifying and not recognizing that it addresses real psychological needs.

It turns an ordinary walk into a chance to catch a rare pokemon, an epic triumph. Much of life is routine and drudgery. This turns ordinary moments into potentially exciting ones.

It gives clear direction for how to be the very best in an otherwise open-ended world. A lot of young ambitious people want to be the best, but what the best means and how you get there are ambiguous. Pokemon Go is easy because it has answered those questions for you. Religion has a lot of value to a lot of people because it provides an organizing view of the world. It tells you what to do and tells you how to do it.

It shows progress in a world where you often don’t have a clear measure of progress. How often do you know for sure how well you’re doing in your job or your relationships. These are difficult cognitively taxing questions. If only life had progress bars too.

It helps break down walls between us and strangers on the street. In New York, standard protocol is not to talk to people on the street. This game is an easy way to connect people in the same way that sports teams are fodder for small talk.

It makes me walk even more. I already walk 5 miles a day, but now I walk 20% more.

It gives people a fun casual activity to do with friends at any time that doesn’t (necessarily) involve going to a bar. When you friends what they want to do, the first two things that come up are going to a bar or a having dinner. Museums are great, but there just aren’t that many things you can do at night. It’s addressing a real hole in the nightlife scene for people who don’t want to go to bars.

For these benefits, what does it cost me to play this game?

It’s not a big time commitment because you actually have to walk places to play the game and I mostly play it as I’m already walking to places.

Sure, my phone will die faster (so I bring a battery).

I have to recognize that games like this are meant to be addictive. Even if you’re not playing the game, it may affect how you experience other pleasures. In the brain, connections that are used more often are strengthened. If you spend too long getting most of your enjoyment from one source that may crowd out other enjoyable things.

The mind share is the biggest cost to playing the game. Just like how I only drink with friends, maybe it’s best to only play Pokemon Go with friends. And for goodness sake, pay attention when you’re crossing the street. #priorities


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