Gotta Catch 'Em All – 5 tips from Pokémon Go to create compulsive learning

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Pokémon Go is insanely popular and growing as fast as you can say 'Pikachu'. It has added 50% to Nintendo's share price since its launch. So why has this augmented reality game gone so viral, so quickly? The game play. Seemingly simple, but incredibly smart AND social. What great design tactics can we learn from Pokémon Go that'll get L&D audiences going? Here's 5 for the picking. 

Hang on, am I in 1998? 

Yes, it is the Pokémon from the 90s, but with a whole new AR twist. 

If you haven't got your head round what Pokémon Go is, it's an augmented reality game from Nintendo and Niantic, where you search around the streets and parks of your city to try and find rare, wild and wonderful Pokémon to collect. 

Walking around town looking at a map on your phone isn’t a game, I hear you cry! But it’s all the clever gameplay elements within it that make this so much fun.  

Sprinkle these five magic elements over your game-based learning and you too might create a Pokéstop* success. (* that's Pokémon speak for landmark). 

5 tips to make a monster success of your learning 


1) It’s social AND viral AND...amazing 

This is probably where the real power of Pokémon Go lies, and where it stands out from most other popular games. The game is more than a game – it breaks down social barriers and gets people talking. 

Three Kineo staff members went out playing it on Monday, eight on Tuesday, more still on Wednesday. Unlike most games, Pokémon Go is actually healthy in that it gets people out and about, and they meet people they may not otherwise have met.  

Our Kineo team bumped into a big group of teens who were peacefully "battling" to take control of a Brighton landmark. We giggled and thanked them for attracting a rare Pokémon to that spot.  

Key L&D takeaway: Make your digital learning become the topic of conversation and it will spread like wild fire. Perhaps it could be something wacky and different, but also really useful, to get tongues wagging. But go further than this by considering how you can bring people, perhaps from different departments or global locations, together around a common goal or buzz. Form learning teams that are nothing to do with 'work' teams for a competitive edge. 

Social and digital or game-based learning shouldn't be seen as separate entities. The real potential lies in getting the two to work in-sync. How can you break down hierarchical or structural workplace boundaries to bring people together – virtually or physically – and voluntarily? 

2) It's seriously sticky - with incremental rewards and levels 

The game feeds the compulsion. Catch enough Pokémon and you go up a level. Go up enough levels and you can join a team. Get team members together to attack and take over a gym. Plus with medals, level-ups, better objects to find, better trained Pokémon characters, it's literally rewards a-go-go. Forums are full of posts of people catching rare Pokémon like Pikachu and boasting about it. 

The more you put in, the more you get out. But the key is that it has incremental goals and rewards – luring players back to go that little bit further. A sticky game indeed, and not just because you might accidentally wade into a puddle whilst playing it. 

Key L&D takeaway: Strike the balance between easily achievable and stretch targets, so learners get some rewards early on and upfront as a pat on the back, whilst dangling slightly further to reach carrots in front of them to motivate them to go further. Sometimes referred to as the endowed progress effect, the idea is to motivate early via rewards or credits that makes users want more where that came from. Both our content framework, Adapt and our LMS, Totara, can give people awards for different types of achievement, with leaderboards to up the competition. You can also check out our blog posts 'Riding the social wave: what we can learn from cognitive theory' and 'Little and often: the learning diet that advocates bitesize nuggets at regular intervals' for practical ideas. 

3) It's eeeeeeaaasssyyyy  

Pokémon Go has a simple, smooth learning curve. There are three or four sentences of background story which serve as instructions, then you just get on with it and learn to play as you go. What's interesting is that this game isn’t new. Niantic made a game called “Ingress” which did everything that Pokémon Go did and more. But Ingress was over-complicated and frustratingly hard for newcomers to use. Everything that Pokémon Go is not.  

Key L&D takeaway: Set 'em up, and let 'em go. Too often elearning contains a whole page of “how to use this course” and way too many lead-in sentences, instructions and pointers. Instead, borrow from games which need next to nothing to teach you how to use it - partly because the interface makes it obvious.  

4) It's a real treasure hunt 

Pokémon Go uses augmented reality to show the characters hiding in real-world places. It merges physical spaces with virtual spaces – which is how it literally brings groups of people together.  

Key L&D takeaway: Whilst you may not yet be set up for AR, there's nothing stopping you using the location-aware features of the Pokémon gameplay in your digital learning. 

Use RFID tags, iBeacons or QR codes to give learners access to information at certain locations – such as hazards around a factory floor. Or for new employees, why not tag physical areas of the warehouse/office/store to help them learn the process in context. A super-streamlined way to merge learning resources with real-world application.  

Create a buzz by creating your very own treasure hunt or mystery for teams to crack; with hidden clues around the workplace. Great for Onboarding or for key cultural or behaviour changing learning campaigns where it's vital to get people talking and buzzing about it. 

5) It had some near-misses 

OK, so not a benefit – but certainly a lesson. When Pokémon Go first launched it encountered massive server problems. Essentially they were victims of their own success as too many people  wanted to play and the game servers just couldn't cope. This could have resulted in a big PR disaster, but thankfully the great gameplay and a smart bit of crisis management saved the day.  

They also found that users didn't play it as designed. The augmented reality which overlays an animated Pokémon onto a live image from your camera phone makes some people feel sick. It also runs your phone battery down fast. People playing Pokémon Go turned it off and BINGO – it was easier to play!  

Key L&D takeaway: User test, user test, and user test. There’s the path that the designer comes up with, then the pathway people actually take. When we design, we use Proto Personas to think of all the different user types and what they’ll want out of the course, the tech they’ll use, how they will want to learn etc. It's also key to do some live testing and consider staggered launches – if it's a brand new digital strategy – so you can rule out surprises and make design-changes in good time. 

While you're never likely to catch 'em all with one approach, there's plenty to learn from the success of Pokémon Go. Choose the elements that'll work for you to give your own L&D some get-up-and-go – you may have a (pocket) monster hit on your hands. 

More on games? Check out this series of articles from Kineo designer, Dilpazier, or get in touch to hear about our recent game-based learning projects.