Why, I Think, Pokemon Go "Died"

Last July, Pokemon Go exploded onto the gaming scene. A few months later, it was apparently dead...

The obituary I saw was a meme claiming “RIP Pokemon Go, 2016-2016." I thought, that's cruel. I only just started playing the game. The hype ended as quickly as it emerged. How could a game so popular be called dead so fast?

 Csikszentmihalyi's map of flow.

Csikszentmihalyi's map of flow.

I think Pokemon Go included a critical flaw in its game design. This flaw simultaneously frustrated and bored players, ultimately leading to its apparent demise. 

The flaw was Pokemon Go did not maintain healthy “flow” for its players. "Flow" is the mental state of feeling completely immersed in an experience. You are fully focused and enjoying the experience; every action is deliberate, accurate, and impactful.  Athletes commonly call this as “being in the zone.”

In game design, creating flow is important for entertaining your players, as well as keeping them playing. According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who coined the term "flow," it is maintained in a healthy balance of improving the players' skills and making their task more difficult at the same time. In instructional design, achieving flow is important for developing learners' skill sets, while not boring or frustrating them.

Boredom and frustration derive from falling off balance between increased skill and difficulty. If you do not improve the players skill, they become anxious and frustrated with their lack of ability to complete tasks. If you do not increase the tasks' difficulty, the skillful players are unchallenged and become bored. Good game design - and instructional design - keeps players (or learners) afloat in the flow state, the magical ratio of increased skills and difficulty. They remain focused, and immersed, while their skills increase!

Unfortunately, Pokemon Go fell victim to increasing difficulty, while not maintaining improved skills.

Although the game provided players new Pokeballs and other helpful items as they leveled-up and attempted to catch higher-leveled Pokemon,  I think, erroneously the game did not provide enough help. Additionally, Pokemon became too repetitive, and too hard to catch. The constant and infuriating monotony of Pokemon breaking free and running away extinguished the fun and purpose of the game. Collecting more Pokeballs from Pokestops felt futile. While some players embraced the grind and managed to collect every Pokemon and conquered gyms, many players fell out of the flow state and into anxiety or boredom.

And for most, that was enough. Pokemon Go was over.

Mitchell WollComment