Ripe with millennial nostalgia, the Pokémon Go craze spans generations and has swept the world.
The game is currently the top grossing app on the Apple store. Within a week of its release, it was the most popular mobile game and, according to SimilarWeb, had an average daily use of 43 minutes and 23 seconds. That’s 20 minutes more than Instagram or Snapchat. Then, it became the most downloaded mobile game in US history.
But perhaps more impressive is the game’s ability to get players to exercise. With Growlithes and Mankeys on the loose, you are required to chase and catch wild Pokémon, before finding Pokestops and “gyms” to train your captives. The cool AR element means you’ll see your local park or your street through your camera, but with Pokémon superimposed on the image. So, you’re literally chasing Pokémon around your neighborhood!
And when we say chase, we mean literally! Gamers have to run and walk around their neighborhoods to hunt down Squirtle and Jigglypuff. Days after the app was released, players were taking to social media to report sore legs and soaring numbers of daily steps! It’s getting people to do what doctors and health experts have been trying to for decades: get you off the couch and moving. And it’s a perfect example of how technology continues to impact the fitness industry.
So, just how has mobile game managed to encourage people to adopt healthier behaviors so quickly and effectively? The answer is gamification, mobile-first design, and a social aspect. Pokémon Go players see real-time feedback, get rewards for their progress and receive recognition for special achievements – all core elements of successful gamification.
Of course, Pokémon Go isn’t the first game to encourage exercise. Wii Fit revolutionized gaming by simulating sports like boxing and tennis. But, the important difference is that Pokémon Go isn’t an exercise app. Unlike the hundreds of “gamified” health and wellness apps available, Pokémon Go is a game. The game comes first and the exercise, which the British Medical Journal (BMJ) called a “tantalizing side-effect”, just kind of sneaks up on you.
And it’s a side effect that healthcare experts and corporate wellness players have been struggling to achieve for years. Many corporate wellness programs – even those that have incorporated digital elements – are failing to capture the high levels of engagement and effectiveness needed to result in a healthier, and therefore more efficient, workforce.
Finding the rare Pokémon and advancing a level drives users to take more steps. But these objectives are framed as in-game objectives, rather than health objectives. Similarly, when we host an inKin challenge, racking up more steps than other teams drives users to undertake healthier behaviors. The more health programs incorporate core elements of game design, such as leaderboards, real-time incentives, teams and point systems (all available on inKin), the more likely people are to engage. Plus, it plays on the competitive nature of many individuals.
The social aspect is also key to Pokémon Go’s success. Users can play against their friends, read about others’ experiences on social media, and use the app to explore their neighborhoods. Then, there are real people, of all ages and races congregating in the same places to pursue the same goal (catching that Rattata) and that instills camaraderie within the Pokémon Go community.
So, there’s definitely a thing or two health apps, and corporate wellness programs could learn from Pokémon Go. First and foremost, there has to be a game – a fun one – and it can’t just be a wellness tracking tool with a game-like veneer on top. Pokémon Go achieved this perfectly. It created something interesting. Of course, it’s a fad, but it’s a fad that opens the door to other games that will change the face of both gaming and health and wellness tools. So, catch ‘em all, we say!