People start playing Pokémon GO because of the franchise and fandom, but stay to catch ‘em all

Alha, K., Koskinen, E., Paavilainen, J., & Hamari, J. (2019) Why do people play location-based augmented reality games: A study on Pokémon GO. Computers in Human Behavior. 93, 114-122.

Pokémon GO’s unforeseen success brought location-based games into the attention of both media and the game industry. To understand why people play location-based games, specifically Pokémon GO, we created an online survey (n=2612) with open questions about the reasons to start, continue, and quit playing Pokémon GO, and composed categories of the answers through a thematic analysis.

The reported reasons to adopt the game were categorized into previous experiences, interest, social influence, popularity, positivity, technology, situation, keeping up, social features, mechanics, and the nature of the game. The most common reasons from these were earlier experiences especially with the Pokémon franchise and fandom. The starting reasons were not associated with how much the players played the game after adoption.

Progression, situation, positivity, game mechanics, social features, social influence, interest, expectations, nature of the game, previous experiences, keeping up, and technology were the categorized reasons to continue playing the game. Progressing was clearly the most frequently reported reason to continue playing, whether trying to collect all of the Pokémon, advancing in the game, or reaching personal goals. Continuance reasons were more clearly associated with playing frequency than the reasons to start playing. Progressing in the game had the strongest correlation to playing frequency, whereas technology was negatively associated, indicating that the novelty of the technology might wear off quickly.

The player’s situation, various problems, shortcomings, poor game mechanics, slow or difficult progression, the nature of the game, changes, the company behind the game, and social influence were mentioned as reasons for quitting the game. From these, the player’s personal situation outside the game and playability problems as a whole were the most significant reasons to quit the game.

Based on our findings, utilizing well-known brands and IP in their games is important especially in location-based alternative reality games. Games that utilize novel technology usually have a higher threshold for adoption, hence familiar characters, themes, and concepts lower the barrier of entry. For retention purposes, focus on versatile progression mechanics is important, as it was the most common reason to continue playing. On the other hand, slow progression was the second most common reason to quit the game, further underlining the importance of good progression mechanics. Lastly, the design quality in the form of playability should be a high priority as problems related to functionality, usability, and gameplay mechanics were common reasons to quit the game.

Our study complements the earlier research on the topic, and found new, important motivations for playing or quitting the game. These reasons should be taken into account when further studying and designing location-based alternative reality games. After exploratory studies have revealed the key reasons for playing, these categories can now be transformed into variables, and used and verified through quantitative studies.

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Alha, K., Koskinen, E., Paavilainen, J., & Hamari, J. (2019) Why do people play location-based augmented reality games: A study on Pokémon GO. Computers in Human Behavior. 93, 114-122.