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The Genius Product Development Concepts Behind Pokemon Go

Every morning I take a short walk about an hour after I get to work. I tell myself I do this to clear my mind and prep for the day, but it’s mostly just to get out of the office and to ponder this question. On these walks I typically stroll by a public park where there are several statues and fountains. I always find myself having to dodge between the kids playing on them. Although a little over a week ago I noticed a shift. Something had happened. Something big. The fountains were suddenly empty and the statues were being left unclaimed. However, there was no shortage of people. You probably already know why. Pokémon Go. Everywhere I looked kids, parents, and employees on break were hunting for Pokémon.

This game is the most impressive product released so far this year if not this decade. Articles have been published stating it added $7.5 billion in value to Nintendo’s market value in just TWO DAYS.  There’s a lot that can be learned from this product so let’s dive in!


I’ve divided the analysis into two key sections. The first of which is components. Imagine components as ingredients. In order to make a great sandwich you’ll need several ingredients. But if you just want to make something quick and easy that gets the job done you might only need two or three. Below are the ingredients Pokémon has added to their sandwich.

  1.     Infinite

What is infinite? It means the app goes on forever. Why is this important? Because you can use the app forever. You wouldn’t use Tinder very much if you could only ever match with three people and you wouldn’t use Snapchat if you could only see one story a day. Pokémon Go not only embodies this concept but it’s revolutionized it by incorporating augmented reality. The world is the game. You can play forever and will constantly discover new things.P1     

               2.    Gamification

Gamification is when you incorporate the typical elements of game-playing into your mobile app. These can include competition with others, the ability to score points, and earn awards. Think of Codeschool’s badges. Businesses have found this to be a way not only to better maintain the users’ attention, but also to create a network effect. There’s no doubt that this was implemented flawlessly in Pokémon Go.

  1.     Dopamine and Random Rewards

Dopamine is essentially a neurotransmitter or chemical messenger that helps elicit pleasure in the brain. Think back to your childhood when you got an answer right in front of the class or to when you won a game against your friends. Remember that good feeling that came over you? Yup. That’s dopamine. A great way to spark dopamine is through random rewards. Companies have figured out that this is a way to keep their users engaged in their applications. A great example of this is the notifications on Facebook. Every time you receive a Like, comment, or post, a notification is sent straight to your phone. This is also releasing chemicals in your brain telling you “someone cares about me”. The same thing occurs when you hit a jackpot a at a casino. Even if you only win a few dollars. You never know when it’s going to happen but it always feels good.

Pokémon has been incorporating this into their games since the company’s inception. Catching your first Pokémon is virtually effortless. But you’re rewarded by some triumphant music and a cataloging of the Pokémon (dopamine). Also you never know when another Pokémon is going to appear (random reward). As a result, you instantly get hooked.

  1.     Network effect

Network effect is when a service becomes more valuable when used by more people. Think about the telephone. The more people who have phones in your network, the more compelling it is for you to purchase one as well. Great apps make it easy to leverage this. Social media apps in particular do a wonderful job. They survive because your friends also use them. Pokémon Go makes it extremely easy and above all fun to play with others. Especially because multiple people can catch the same Pokémon at once. Also, groups can take advantage of Lures which if activated draw Pokémon near.

  1. Nurture Effect

Nurture effect ignites an evolutionary instinct in humans to take care of other things. Think back (if you’re old enough) to feeding your Tamagotchi, building a virtual life in the Sims, or even cultivating the perfect LinkedIn page. Pokémon Go embodies this beautifully by allowing users to evolve and even hatch Pokémon.

Core strategies

If the components are ingredients then the strategies can be thought of as the sandwich preparation. An ordinary sandwich can be significantly enhanced just by toasting it or improving its presentation. Mobile apps are the same way. Below are some that Pokémon have embodied.

  1.     Rebranding

The business world is full of rebranding success stories. Old Spice used to be considered a deodorant for older men. Now it’s an extremely well known brand. Pabst Blue Ribbon used to be the Hipster beer of choice. Now it sells for $44 in China. Pokémon Go falls into this category as well. Google originally created the core technology for the game and ultimately decided to spin it off into a new company called Niantic in which they remained an investor. Niantic then used the technology to create a game called Ingress with a science fiction storyline and a foundation somewhat similar to Pokémon Go. Which leads me to my next point…

  1.     Partnerships

Partnerships as well as acquisitions are pretty common throughout the software development life cycle. Two of the most famous are Instagram and Whatsapp. Both of which were acquired by Facebook.  Anyway, Niantic partnered with and recieved investment from Google, Nintendo, and The Pokémon Company to create this game. This way they were able to rebrand, and ultimately launch a product that resonated with a much larger audience.

  1.   Tribe Loyalty

Humans are used to being in Tribes. We respond to banding together for strength, security, and companionship. Great companies have been known to take advantage of this concept. A well known example is Harley Davidson. Even if you’ve never ridden on a motorcycle in your life you probably have a good idea of what a typical Harley customer looks like. This is because the company spent a considerable amount of time growing a following of a specific group through a product and lifestyle that resonates with them. Pokémon Go knocks it out of the park here again by allowing users to pick teams (Yellow, Red, or Blue) once they reach the fifth level of the game. Also as I stated above, players are also able to work together to attract Pokémon through Lures. As a result the game is immensely more fun to play in groups, all of which leads to cultivation of a tribe.

  1.     Marketing/Shareability

This ties in with several of the features listed above. Shareability is a key component in product development. Mobile development companies spend a great deal of time figuring out ways to make it easy for users to broadcast their activity on a platform. Why? Your friends are your best marketers. Facebook figured this out with the Like button.  The augmented reality component of Pokémon Go coupled with the design makes it easy to share interesting and unique images with others.


  1. Innovation

Great apps have to do something that hasn’t been done before and Pokémon Go does. The game changes based on your interaction in the app. This also helps out with the marketing. Everyone wants to write about unique things like people getting robbed, car crashes, or players swarming Central Park. Companies can be fueled heavily by media attention. Pokémon Go became so massively and quickly prevalent that everyone knows about it regardless of whether or not they play (but odds are that they probably do) despite minimal advertising.

I dare-say Pokémon Go isn’t just brilliant, it’s downright genius. In the past, apps have been able to generate massive value by incorporating just one or two of these components and strategies into their products. But the developers of this game figured out a way to cram them all into an elegant and beautiful sandwich that also includes an impressive business model. The app is free, but some features that enhance the in-game experience (Incense and Lucky Eggs) can be purchased. This is by no means an exhaustive list either. It’s simply the ingredients and recipes that I’ve noticed and have come to appreciate. There’s aspects of this app we can all learn from and use in the future.


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