Pokémon GO, is it innovative?

July 18th, 2016

Many things have already been said and written about Pokémon GO, and this won’t be the last article either. However, in this article I will take a different approach. I will have a look at several possible reasons why Pokémon GO is such a huge success.

Let’s have an objective look at the game Pokémon GO. What is so special about this game? Well, to be honest… nothing really. It has all been done before.

Pokémon GO

Not so innovating technology

Sure, the game is augmented reality. But wait…, that isn’t entirely true either. There are several reasons why you shouldn’t refer to Pokémon GO as augmented reality. Moreover, it feels like the so called augmented reality in the game is not much more advanced than the Mosquitoes game that I had on my phone back in 2004.

So Pokémon GO may not be the best example of an augmented reality game. But for sure it is location based, without any doubt!

However, it is not the first in its kind either. The first location-based game that I am aware of – “The Journey” on Symbian – also dates from 2004.

Even the company Niantic Labs that developed Pokémon GO already had a location-based game named Ingress.

The Pokémon GO game is fully based on this previous game that was released in 2012 on android and in 2014 on iOS. In fact many of the Pokéstops and Gyms are locations that are copied from Ingress.

Not so innovating gameplay

Pokémon GO is technically not very advanced, but what about the gameplay?

Again the game is not very innovative as it lacks the features to let it stand out. In fact, it is just a randomized collection game, topped with a very thin layer of geo-location and camera features. It adds fun elements to the game, but it is very much the same as any average cake with a nice glazing.

The game in its current form provides as much joy as collecting physical baseball or football cards; something that you probably have done in your childhood years. I will not deny that it is fun; but it will probably not be able to engage many people as it is missing many more advanced features like multiplayer quests or battles, trading with friends, mini games, story telling, …

If you enjoy the game now it is quite likely that you drop it in a couple of weeks as it does not offer anything to keep many players excited for a long period.

Why is the game so popular?

Pokémon GO is very popular! Some people even speak about a hype. The speed by which it took its first place in the app stores is seldom seen. But what does the game have that other games don’t have?

Firstly, Pokémon is an incredible well-established brand that we all know from our childhood. Playing the game brings back memories as if we were travelling back in time to our childhood.

Very few brands have the power to bring the same emotional feelings as Pokémon. Looking at the retail sales value of 2.1 Billion USD of the Pokémon Company says enough.

The Pokémon brand is certainly a huge advantage for the game, but there is more and it would surprise me if this weren’t cleverly thought out.

Niantic labs carefully took the engine and technology of their existing game Ingress. Then they adapted and fitted it for an audience of casual gamers with a theme that was right for it. All this almost perfectly timed in a market that has grown tremendously in the last years.

The Ingress game was successful, but nothing compared to the rise that Pokémon GO took. All that was needed was a thin layer of augmented reality and the correct theme.

Although I hope that more advanced features will be added to the game, it looks like Niantic labs have released a very good minimum viable product for their targeted audience. And even though the location-based element is not strictly innovative, it is novel to the majority of casual gamers. Suddenly they are challenged to go out on the streets to play the game, something we have never seen on this scale before.

So the game looks like very innovative to their targeted audience. Niantic labs has hit the market at the right time with the right themed game.


Having a successful game, or product in general, isn’t always about being the best or the most innovative. Very often it is about releasing the right product to the right audience at the right moment.

This sounds familiar to anybody with a business or marketing background, but indie game developers do often have a technical or creative background. As simple as it sounds, we are usually too much focused on creating a new game, so we forget about our audience. Let this be a lesson :-)

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