The User Experience of Pokémon Go
Pokémon Go has taken over the world, but is its UX the best that ever was?
Glitches… glitches everywhere
Discovering problems with usability doesn’t take a lot of effort. Most of the time I boot the game, I am greeted with a frozen loading screen, frozen ball capture or complete loss of GPS data within the first couple of minutes.
In short, errors are as common as Weedles (more on that later) and have a negative impact on my enjoyment with the game.
A lack of instruction
So you’ve made an account, survived the log in screen of despair and captured your starting Pokémon, but what now?
The game gives you very little detail on how key mechanics work such as how to find nearby Pokémon, hatching eggs, defending gyms, earning XP and loads more that you might have expected in a tutorial before you started your adventure. More information on key functions should be included.
Made for mobile
I’m a big fan of how Pokémon Go utilises mobile capabilities. GPS and augmented reality and gyroscope functionality are all used to great effect. It’s great and quite refreshing to see a mobile game that takes advantage of these features. It’s simple but very effective in blurring the lines between game and reality.
Loads to catch but not in the countryside
One thing I loved about the original Game Boy games was exploring rural areas such as forests or caverns to discover new Pokemon.
Cue my dissapointment when a half-hour trek through woodland areas and a beach uncovered little more than a few Weedles the whole journey. I’m from a small town and as such my house is located 10 minutes away from a Pokestop and about 20 minutes away from a gym.
That is really all I have access to without heading in to the town centre (3 miles away) where I can find a whole three gyms (yay) and more Weedles.
I’ve seen plenty of screenshots online taken in cities where there is no shortage of gyms, stops and all sorts of Pokémon in the immediate vicinty. Niantic really needs to improve the amount of Pokémon to catch, stops and gyms in less densley populated areas.
I understand the game wants me to go outdoors but I shouldn’t have to travel over 100 miles to a major city in order to catch something good.
Designing for the masses
One thing Niantic got partly right was the interface design. It is easy to navigate and fairly visually appealing.
The map resembles what I’m used to seeing in Pokémon games but skinned over my current GPS location. The character models look good and all graphic design elements such as buttons, status bars and the launch icon have been designed fairly well, with most of these elements conveying the brand identity.
The main thing I have a problem with is the green gradient colour on the buttons and the green background colour on the menus which just seems like it doesn’t fit in with Pokemon at all. It’s not the worst colour I’ve ever seen but it stands out like a Vaporeon in Central Park here.
I would have preferred red buttons/backgrounds to correspond to the colours of the most iconic ball type (poké ball).
Pokémon but not as you know it
In the Game Boy games you battle other Pokémon to gain XP that helps make yours stronger, by levelling up.
This creates a bond between you and your Pokémon as you have trained it yourself(often for a long duration of time), used strategy to select the perfect four moves to teach it, and carefully considered which moves to use during a skirmish.
When you finally beat the Elite Four at the end of the games you feel proud of the Pokémon you worked hard to turn in to the best team in the game. In Go you can’t battle wild Pokémon. Instead you make yours stronger by simply catching loads of the same Pokémon, swap the weak ones for candies and force feed these candies to the strongest one to make it stronger.
This removes any sort of bond between trainer and Pokémon, with gameplay feeling ‘casual’ and a bit shallow.
Gym battles exist but instead of the classic turn-based batttles, you are reduced to tapping the screen as fast as you can to attack.
Also, you can’t teach your Pokémon moves and they only have two instead of the usual four.
These battles are shockingly bad and completely remove the strategy that was present in the original games.
In past games it is possible for a low level Pokemon with a smart move set to take out a stronger opponent. This is great, you feel rewarded for playing smartly in a challenging battle.
If you lose, you can change up your move set or go back to training and try again when your team is stronger.
In Go you simply feel frustrated (even if you win) and there is very little desire to go and catch another bunch of your chosen Pokémon to make them stronger.
If Go changed the battle systems and used stats like those in the Game Boy games, the experience would be greatly improved and increase the longevity of the title.
Sure, people are playing right now but will they still be playing in a year? Probably not! Add a good battle & levelling system and the game could stay relevant and engaging for a very long time.
A social experience
The real magic of the game has been the coming together of people from different backgrounds regardless of gender, race or religion.
Working with others to catch specific pokemon and take down gyms, all while getting some much needed exercise is a fantastic experience (even with the poor battle system).
It has been great to read stories about people with depression, anxiety, weight issues etc, getting outside and exercising while engaging with other people and making new friends or strengthening exisiting friendships.
Social media has been packed with players sharing tips and information which can be accessed by anyone around the world (or at least those with an active internet connection), there are groups for the three factions within the game where team members can discuss gyms they have captured/joined, this game is literally unifying people across the globe.
Go’s biggest weakness is that it is too ‘casual’, but it could also be it’s biggest strength, as even your gran can go out catch some Pokémon.
Solid source material
By far the driving point behind the runaway success of the game is the collectible pocket monsters themselves.
With many users growing up watching the show on TV, playing the games and collecting the cards and other merchanidse. It is of little suprise that nostalgia has played a part in adults wanting to be ‘the very best’ particularly here in the tech industry where we love geeky things from yesteryear.
Pokémon has continued to do solid business in recent years, with the 2013 X and Y games selling around 14 million units on the 3DS.
Bringing the franchise to a mobile platform where it can engage those users, pull in old players and be introduced to ‘first timers’, was a stroke of genius from a marketing sense.
From a user point of view, they are interacting with engaging characters they may remember from their childhood, or that they currently enjoy through other media, therefore the sense of pleasure/joy they experience is heightened.
Users experiencing Pokémon for the first time are ‘sucked’ in by friends playing, news stories online and of course the social elements of the game which makes it seem less like a game and more like a unified social experience which anyone with an Android or Apple smartphone can be a part of.
The immense popularity of the app has seen people attempt to (surprise) make money by (surprise) exploiting people.
There are a number of ebay users selling their accounts online, while services like getting your eggs hatched and pokemon caught for you while you presumably sit on your arse or do something important in the real world, have been spotted on Craiglist.
Maybe this level of exploitation and making money out of stupid/lazy people is inevitable with an online game of this nature, but it doesn’t make it any less sad to see.
Errors with the game freezing and the servers being down are consistent for most users. However, thanks to geographical location and context, people are having different experiences. Some of these have been bad such as robberies, accidents or even finding naked vandalists destroying a church.
However, overwhelmingly people are reporting having a lot of fun in this game and creating adventures in real life, excercising & socialising and that can only be a very good thing for everyone involved.
Despite a very poor battle & levelling up system and usability errors (which will hopefully be patched soon), Niantic have created a game that most people seemingly can’t get enough of, at least until they catch em all.