Pokemon Go: Why is the game so popular?

Pokémon Go has taken the world by storm. So what did we do, grab our smartphones of course and tried to catch as many Pokémon as we could! We soon discovered that there were lots to catch on our Parkgate Road Campus, Riverside Campus and in Chester city centre. For anyone that has made it to level 5 already, you might want to know that our Parkgate Road Campus has two gyms, one at the Binks Building and another at Senate House.



We caught up with Ralph Ferneyhough, programme leader for our Games Development BSc to find out his thoughts on the success of Pokémon Go.


What are your thoughts/experience of Pokémon Go?

I am impressed how fast it has entered the awareness of the population as a whole – it has not just been an instant success with the usual market of gamers, both casual and serious, but it has even managed to enter popular culture and news at the same time. There aren’t many games which have been featured in big news stories on the BBC website and in major newspapers, and yet, even though the majority of those news stories at the moment have negative slants, it really shows that the culture of gaming is very much mainstream nowadays.

Personally, I had been holding out for the official UK release, but do think that might have been a little bit of a mistake, as I’m now going to be behind everyone else! My daughter even worked out how to bypass the region restrictions and is already happily scouring the local area we live in for Pokémon and I suspect I am going to be completely outclassed in my household.

One thing that I am particularly interested in is the activity driven part of the game – instead of it being tied to a seat in front of a TV or a monitor, it needs the players to get outside and explore, and in fact some of the mechanics require kilometres of walking to succeed, such as hatching the eggs which can be found into Pokémon to collect. I suspect many parents will be secretly pleased their children have suddenly found a reason to get outside during the summer.

Why do you think it has become so popular, so quickly?

Pokémon have always been a popular franchise since their introduction twenty years ago, through the trading cards, many handheld games and now onto smartphones. The clever use of the capabilities of modern phones to present an augmented reality game that combines the collection mechanics of the original long-running series with actions in the real world is what is primarily driving this instant success story.

The press attention hasn’t harmed either – lots of clever pre-release marketing has built the hype with the right crowd, and even the news stories we are seeing now are fuelling that fire – there’s no such thing as bad publicity!

Do you think this social and tech mix is the future for games development?

This mix most definitely has a future, but it is a new one that will complement traditional gaming, rather than replace it. This game hasn’t invented augmented reality, but it has taken it into the mainstream for perhaps the first time – instead of it being just a demo or a gimmick, it is now something tangible that players can interact, and indeed play with. It is just a toy, but it’s one that’s wrapped in a very strong, recognisable brand.

Going forward, I think we will see a number of copycat games that basically do the same thing, but with different skins and brands being used to attract different players. In fact, Pokémon Go is itself based on a previous location based game called Ingress, so there’s no reason not to expect future evolutions of the genre over the next few years.

Any advice for future students/anyone who wants to get into creating similar games/apps?

Runaway successes like this are hard to predict. In the past we saw Angry Birds seemingly come from nowhere to become a game everyone was playing. Similarly, Candy Crush Saga did the same thing. But what lies behind all of these successes is hard work – Rovio, developers of Angry Birds, say themselves that it was an overnight success which took eight years to achieve – referring to the many games they developed leading up to the one big hit.

So if there’s any one piece of advice it’s always to be experimenting and developing things – play around with ideas, work on projects and get lots of experience. It doesn’t have to be super-professional, and with the current availability of free game engines, the barriers to entry have never been so low. You never know when you will stumble on the game idea that everyone suddenly reacts positively to and the next hit will be born.

Finally, any rumours that we will be using lures to attract students to our lectures in the new academic year are of course completely true. Gotta catch ‘em all!

If you want to find out more about our Games Development course, why don’t you visit us on an Open Day and see how many Pokémon you can catch.