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Hype or Opportunity?

July 29, 2016

The excitement around Pokemon GO is not a new thing. In the 1980s it was Cabbage Patch Kids. In the 90s it was Tamagotchi keychains and Pokemon cards. In the early 2000s, it was Silly Bandz, Webkinz and Beanie Babies. In the early part of this decade there was a Transformers revival and an upsurge in comic book-related sales due to Marvel’s and DC’s massive investment in bringing favorite comic book characters to life on film and in television. We have all experienced the excitement of the release of a new and highly anticipated product. Marketers do their best to create a lot of hype around the latest thing to drive sales. The Pokemon GO phenomenon doesn't feel like the usual marketing ploy, though. To me, this feels more like the beginning of a trend, not just hype.


For someone who is very much involved in the concepts of social learning and social leadership, and whose job centers around curation of online continuing medical education materials, this has been a big learning experience. The following are some things I’ve taken from my experiences playing Pokemon GO:


 1. Be sure you’re ready for the traffic your content may generate. Niantic was unprepared for the consumer response to the release of Pokemon GO. Their servers were unable to accommodate the sheer volume of downloads and players, which left a bad taste in many people’s mouths. I would hope they have data on the number of people who tried to download and play but quit after a single attempt due to server outages and other technical problems, and that they learned something from their (MANY) mistakes. Bottom line, if you’re going to release something, think ahead and be over-prepared. It’s better to be disappointed that more people didn’t jump on board than to have people jumping ship because their experience is negative. You can always build hype around a successful product, but the loss of momentum centered around technical failure can be catastrophic.


 2. Some people are quitters and some are dogged adherents. I suppose I already knew this, but maybe I was surprised because of my own response to Pokemon GO and all the server issues they have had. Despite all the difficulties I have experienced, both in the initial download and attempts to play and the (now) intermittent problems with screens freezing and GPS signal drops, I am more than halfway to level 17 as I write this. Sometimes we just want things to work badly enough that we’ll stick with it because we hope it will be rewarding in the end. If the developers are smart they will keep a running line of communication going so users at least know they’re working on problems. However, if we experience enough resistance or negative outcomes and there is no communication from the developers, we will probably give up on an activity and move on. For someone in education this is an important reminder—some people will stick with you so you need to leverage their dedication. Get feedback, act on suggestions. Everyone wins if you communicate that you are continually improving and your end users feel like their input is valued.

 3. Community can spring up around your content. And when I say ‘community,’ I mean a real community. Because of Pokemon GO, people are out walking around, helping one another out, telling each other where the good Pokemon are and how to do things like train at the gyms or battle a rival gym. Typical demographic divides are non-existent. I have never before seen such a diverse bunch of people coalesce into such a robust social group. There is a park here where there are a lot of Pokestops and people take camp chairs and coolers and make an evening of catching Pokemon and making friends. These are people who wouldn’t have spent a half hour in a park two months ago, now spending three or four hours enjoying the outdoors and interacting with others. This is the most important thing I’ve learned, I think. If you give people something to rally around that is fun and engaging, they will come in droves. You can’t gamify everything (or at least you shouldn’t), but educational content can still be enjoyable and attractive to learners. And when they come together, whether in person or in a virtual environment, you can leverage the collective experience and knowledge, and a community springs up. People make new friends and rediscover old ones. They share information both about the content and about themselves. They become unified, and the experience is richer for all involved.


Yes, I love games, and I really love Pokemon GO. Despite all the early difficulties, I have found enjoyment in the experience, the exercise, and the interaction with other players. I will be interested to see where all this goes. How will you change what you do based on your experiences with this or other games/content? Where do you see this kind of gaming and interaction taking us in the next few years?

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