Thursday, July 28, 2016

Pokemon GO - Gamification Multipliers and Game Balance

Series Landing Page - Prev: Designed Gamification - Next: Social Change and Mental Health (ETA 7/29-7/30)

Gamification Multipliers - Accelerating the Feedback Loop

Once you have a great feedback loop or many of them in place, what can you do on top of that ot build an even better hook? You allow people to manipulate and customize the feedback loop to fit their personal styles and requirements. Let's say someone has a lot of money and little time. A game that is purely time based will not work for such a person if they can't buy themselves out of the time experience or at least increase the value of the time experience to a level that makes sense for them. So perhaps you allow someone to buy an item which doubles their time value? How do you make sure this doesn't imbalance the game for players who don't have a lot of money or perhaps they find more fun in using their own time and avoiding the pay to play aspects? Well, you balance, like crazy, to make sure you don't provide too much value to someone willing to pay and that there is a cap on this.

The one player that will always outsmart your system is the one with time and money. They'll exploit both mechanics and achieve more than anyone else. So again, its important to make sure that even when multiple mechanics interact they impact each other linearly and don't lead to an exponential. Exponentials that players can exploit are bad. Using exponentials to slow progress and provide challenge is good. Of course you can always be surprised. Maybe someone finds an exponential exploit that makes your game amazing! Players are very creative and when you build in the right tools you find they create amazing stuff.

So lets dive into the IAP for Pokemon GO since that is where all of the accelerators exist ;-) You have to pay for them which is the first road-block. They are consumable and time-limited which is the second road-block. The final road-block is that in all variations they are indeed linear. You can use them to change two functions of the game though. You can either reduce the amount of time it takes to get experience. Or you can use them to reduce the amount of movement. Often times they do both at the same time. We'll start with Lure Modules.

Lure Modules

A lure module is something that you erect on a Poke Stop which is a shared game object. This means that others benefit from your placement of the lure as do you. The lure will attract more Pokemon. Around the same speed as the stop refreshes so about once every 5 minutes, though sometimes it seems a bit faster than that. This is likely due to a combination of lured spawns and general world spawns occurring in the same location.

A lured spot is approximately fast enough that it will either cause you to break even on items or drain you slowly over time. With faster spawns, you catch more Pokemon more quickly, but not quite quickly enough that you have to stay at the stop if there are others nearby. In fact, when you have a park full of lured spawns it is still better to move between them and get more Poke Stop spins and replenish your items rather than let yourself drain.

A lure lasts for 30 minutes and via the IAP to item conversion rates it costs anywhere from a $1.08 down to $.64. You can then calculate costs over time such as $5-8 to keep a stop lured for 4 hours. If you have a few friends and there are a few spots nearby you could really rack up some quick experience using this.

Since lures increase your capture rate they can also be combined with Lucky Eggs to again double the experience. The calculations here would be that by themselves lure modules would provide a 3-4x spawn rate increase and with Lucky Eggs this would yield a 6-8x experience increase for the session vs a no items session. Again, this all assumes you are staying put. Someone on the move, even without these advantages can achieve similar numbers.

The last bit about lure modules is that they are social in nature and this ends up drawing more players. Which in turn means more people to place lures and share the burden. I generally play without setting any lures, but benefit from others having set them more than half of my play time. Especially around very active areas like parks the lures are almost always active.

While not validated many players also believe that the more people are in the area the more rares and more rapidly spawns occur in general.


Incense is a way to increase your personal spawn rate. Basically it attracts Pokemon to you and when it does they have a little poof of smoke around them on the map. This lets you know they were lured and not one of the general world spawns that everyone else can see.

Since incense only applies to you and you can only have one active at a time it is a bit cheaper than buying a lure module. About half the price. The value in the higher cost of the lure though is extreme since it stacks, both in terms of number of people that can utilize it and the fact you can deploy more than one at a time (1 per Poke Stop). Arguably though, if everyone else is blowing Lure Modules, then you could augment with an incense to get a bit more experience.

The rate of spawn seems to be about the same as a lured stop. So you get a spawn about every 4-5 minutes. Care should be taken not to get into a condition where you have more Pokemon out than you can catch, since this ends up lowering the overall value of the items. You paid for them, so make sure you get the most out of them.

This means incense is another additive value to the equation. Its basically 6-7 Pokemon in a 30 minute period at the cost of about $.50. It does stack with Lucky Eggs, but it doesn't increase your social. In fact, it can lower your social. Word of Warning: Do not cry Pikachu only to realize that you lured it. Everyone around you will hate you. Its an easy way to lose friends.

Lucky Eggs

To me the introduction of Lucky Eggs into the game is pretty much the only thing that makes the leveling bearable. You can make huge strides through your levels. If you want more details on that go read my Power Leveling Guide. When you pop a Lucky Egg all of your experience points for an entire 30 minutes is double. Anything you do, evolves, registering to your Pokedex, captures, special bonues, everything is doubled.

Theoretically in a 30 minute session you could catch about 30 Pokemon, maybe more if you are super lucky. With a lucky egg you can turn the 3-4k of capture experience into 6-8k of experience instead. Some ballpark figures show you can get around 12-14k per hour using this method. Now, lets compare that to the evolve loop. You can evolve a Pokemon every 25s. That allows for 70 evolves in a 30 minute period. That alone is 70k experience. So go catch em all, then evolve them pop a Lucky Egg and evolve them all ;-)

I recently computed the number of evolution rounds (cumulative) you'd end up going through to hit 40. This assumes you get about 50k capture experience and then do a 70k evolution round. I'm still playing with the capture experience number since it may be a little higher given Poke Stop contributions and special capture bonuses. The table below shows the evolve rounds given my best data at the current time.

Level Level Exp Cumulative Exp Evolve Sets (Lucky Egg) Evolves for Level
15 20000 120000 1 1
16 20000 140000 2 1
17 20000 160000 2 0
18 25000 185000 2 0
19 25000 210000 2 0
20 50000 260000 3 1
21 75000 335000 3 0
22 100000 435000 4 1
23 125000 560000 5 1
24 150000 710000 6 1
25 190000 900000 8 2
26 200000 1100000 10 2
27 250000 1350000 12 2
28 300000 1650000 14 2
29 350000 2000000 17 3
30 500000 2500000 21 4
31 500000 3000000 25 4
32 750000 3750000 32 7
33 1000000 4750000 40 8
34 1250000 6000000 50 10
35 1500000 7500000 63 13
36 2000000 9500000 80 17
37 2500000 12000000 100 20
38 3000000 15000000 125 25
39 5000000 20000000 167 42

The Lucky Egg contributes to hacks the feedback loop by being a multiplier. You can either use it for instant gratification while catching Pokemon at stops for a sub $1 an hour cost. Or save them up and blow them for huge evolve gains that catapult you quickly through the levels. Hint: You would end up using the $100 IAP (~$60 worth of it)

Feedback Loop

The feedback equation for Pokemon GO is mostly about experience points over time. If we pick a range, like 30 minutes, since all of the boosts last only 30 minutes a simple equation forms.

Capture Exp = World Captures + Lured Captures? + Incense Captures? + Special Capture Bonuses

Exp per 30 minute period = (1 + Lucky Egg)(Capture Exp + Poke Stops + Evolves + Pokedex Registrations + Egg Hatches)

Okay, maybe not super simple, but pretty simple. There are some aspects of the equation that reduce over time. For instance, there are only 150 Pokedex registrations and so there is a limit of 150k experience points you can get there (assuming Lucky Egg), but you'll miss out on 50 of those just leveling up to where you can do the first evolve set.

Captures and Poke Stops are world space and time dependent. Egg Hatches are even more world dependent and Pokemon GO has really bad distance measurements (see my analysis of my first 100km). Good luck trying to pop your Lucky Eggs for that. This leaves us with the Evolves, which are fully controllable when and how we do them.

My advice is have fun with lures and incense and leave the lucky eggs for the evolves and you'll minimize your spending and maximize your own feedback loop. However, if you really want to optimize for time, then blow the cash and keep the Lucky Eggs popped anytime you are playing so long as you have the 30 minutes to spare.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Pokemon GO - Gamification and Social Analysis

Don't be scared by the title. This will be an analysis, but it will have a bunch of really cool personal stories as well. Hopefully this post has something for everyone. It will be quite long. I plan to tackle many aspects of gamification and social integration both within the game and emergent behavior. Sometimes the game designers already foresaw the emergent behavior but didn't articulate it in a way we can detect it was part of the plan. In the end it doesn't matter. When we build games we should plan for as many emergent behaviors as we can and we should quickly adapt to those we couldn't have foreseen. The most amazing viral outcome is when you are able to adapt, scale and achieve the maximum benefits from the occurrence (which is rare) without getting a black eye or having your service shut down.

Since this is so large and I'd like for people to deep link I'll try to label as many of the sections as possible and provide a TOC so you can jump to the sections you care about.
  1. Designed Gamification
  2. Gamification Accelerators
  3. Social Change and Mental Health
  4. Social Fitness
  5. Social Marketing
  6. Future Gamification Opportunities
We will start by examining the basic game and how its various components fuel the user's desire to keep playing. How do they drive their feedback loops? How does the feedback loop look when various elements such as location and social are applied? There are a lot of these in the game. Everything in Pokemon GO is gamified to some extent. 

We'll then move onto the multipliers. What did they add to the game to accelerate the baseline gamification mechanics? There are a lot of these too. Basically every feedback loop can be sped up. It can be sped up by spending money. It can be sped up by being more social. It can be sped up by getting more exercise or changing your location.

After we cover the game we will move onto the social integration. While most of this was catalyzed by the game, I can't say that the game was designed to drive many of the social outcomes that have occurred. I really do hope that Niantic had design sessions in which they discussed the positive impact their game would have on social anxiety and children with autism, I just can't reason about how that would have transpired. After all, they are in place to build a successful product that makes money. The social change they've generated is likely incidental. The social aspects are broken into three parts where I cover social change (a general social concept), fitness (a major US problem) and finally marketing and small business opportunities.

The last section will cover some deep combinations of various game mechanics to talk more about how the game might evolve. Anytime you built the basic ingredients of gamification into a product your players will manipulate those ingredients to create master chef recipes that you never accounted for. Here I'll talk about the motivations behind my power leveling guide, the power of region specific entities and the upcoming chatter around trading and other social interactions.

Pokemon GO - Designed Gamification Features

Series Landing Page - Gamification Multipliers

Designed Gamification - the Pokemon GO Feedback Loop

When you first launch Pokemon GO there is only one thing you can do. Catch a Pokemon. The game starts by letting you catch one of three of the most popular Pokemon in the game. The game starts in AR mode so it looks quite impressive with the three arranged in a little circle on the floor in front of you as if they are just waiting for you to engage. And engage you do ;-)

Once you've caught you first Pokemon you will learn about the world map and a bunch of other game features as well as how to catch more Pokemon, how to use Poke stops etc... You'll quickly level through the initial concepts and overall the game immediately feels addictive. You'll likely play until you hit level 5 or more and even learn there are new items to be had. Let's break this down though, since already, in two paragraphs, you've been slapped in the face with gamification.

Catch Pokemon

As we discussed the first thing you do is catch Pokemon. Catching a Pokemon takes about a minute. During this time you throw some balls at a Pokemon which is oriented in front of you. There is a pseudo 3D effect in play here that feels like you are actually throwing the ball and it feels like the ball is travelling on a real 3D arc in space.

The Pokemon will attack, they will break out of your ball, you might miss and you'll notice a little ring that is ever shrinking. All of these effects are in place to try and keep your attention and provide difficulty in the catch. This is part of the flow model where you want to make something challenging enough that a user feels like they have to be engaged but not so hard that they feel like they can't accomplish the task.

What about that ring we talked about though, what does that do? Well, it turns out that hitting a Pokemon in the right location can give you a bonus. You get either a Nice, Great or Excellent bonus (with another Curveball bonus that is SO not worth it). These offer you more experience points (10, 50 and 100 respectively for the accuracy bonuses) and you get only get them if you hit the critter in the right spot and the ring is of a small enough size. Capturing with a smaller ring is also related to your capture chance.

Once you capture the Pokemon you get experience points, maybe a bonus and some candy/stardust. You start to wonder, what can I do with these new items? Well you can upgrade and "power up" your critters. So every catch, you get something. You get this regardless of how many times you've caught the Pokemon. It was challenging thus involving some aspects of flow while also establishing a very short 1-5 minute feedback loop (which loops back when you catch your next Pokemon).

But there is more, you also get NEW Pokemon and you get to add them to your Pokedex the first time you catch them. This experience in the beginning of the game is constant. There are 150 or so Pokemon to catch and you are likely to catch up to 20 in your first session. This drives another feedback loop which is initially the game speed as the catch loop, but gets increasingly longer and longer. Remember this because this feedback loop is the one that drives the craze. Its the "Gotta Catch em All" motto that everyone knows from Pokemon.

Exponential Level Curves

The game starts with very fast leveling. Only a few hundred to thousands of experience points. This might be only 2-10 catches before you level up again. The almost linear curve of growth continues until you reach around level 15. This makes a linear plot look almost silly until you reach level 21 at which point it takes off. The two figures to the right show the curves using both linear and log plots.

This means for the first 10 levels you are going to be leveling up like crazy. Leveling up in a game is a huge in the Feedback loop and its something that drives your behavior and how you play the game. For instance, when your leveling is simple and fast you tend to blindly play the game, not optimizing for anything. However, as you get further into the game and levels take longer you start to want the feel of that level again and so you start to optimize and figure out how you can get better at playing.

In Pokemon GO this will mean that you learn about how to use your items better, such as lucky eggs, incense and lure modules. It will also mean that you focus more on getting better throws to get throw bonuses. This will increase your flow and your attention towards the game itself. This will all be covered the power leveling section and most of this is covered in my power leveling guide post.

In addition to getting some items when you level, every 5 levels you get access to some new items or some IAP (In-App Purchase, aka Pay to Play) based items. For instance, you get your first lucky egg at level 5. This is training you that there is a game mechanic which can speed up your leveling and make it even more fun, but once you use it, you have to pay for more through the IAP.

You sometimes get upgraded items, such as a new type of potion that heals your Pokemon faster or a new type of ball, more rare than the normal balls, that allows you to capture Pokemon more easily. These are all small incremental improvements, but once you have access to them, you want more. And the game offers ways for you to get more, by adding these newly unlocked items to your drop rate chance at the Poke stops. Some items, such as a Ultra Ball might have as low as a 5% chance of drop at a Pokestop, so you'd be compelled to visit up to 20 Pokestops to get a chance at just 1 ball!!

As you go up in level you get higher CP Pokemon to catch. This mechanic is a blessing and a curse. First, it is a blessing in that even powered up Pokemon you catch in the beginning of the game won't be as strong as some of those you'll catch. But its a curse in that they are so much harder to catch. This scaling level of difficulty is again another form of flow and catching a high level Pokemon that replaces one of your existing Pokemon is quite a moment. I've definitely felt relief, excitement, fiero and more getting one of those catches. I've also felt huge loss when I expend a bunch of rare balls and treats to do it, but that just adds to the feedback loop because it inspires me to go out and keep hunting Pokemon.


As a collection game Pokemon GO is great for delivering on achievements and badges. Badges in the game come in the form of collection milestones that give you a one, two or three star badge depending on level. Additionally once you've maxed out a badge it continues to count, meaning that Niantic could improve this mechanic and add even more powerful badges in the future that you would be inspired to get access to.

Most of the badges are for collecting certain types of Pokemon and will not be something a user would focus or target. Instead you'd achieve them throughout the games progression. Some badges though inspire you to do something like move around, a lot. There are distance badges with the largest offering a 3 start gold badge for 1,000km or around 600 miles. There are also badges for hitting Poke stops (which refresh every 5 minutes) and so to optimally collect them you must move between them and only return once they have refreshed. I guess you could sit on top of one for hundreds of hours 24/7, but if you want to maximize your time then you have to move.

Finally there are badges that drive the competition aspect of the game. You get some badges for improving your own team's gyms or by attacking others.

While badges right now don't have a huge impact on the game itself I will point out that the harder to get ones that require the user to continue moving and get in a lot of miles are quite compelling. They've compelled me to maintain an average of around 8 miles per day to try and keep ticking those achievements and I often share those values with others as a note of pride in playing the game. That is exactly the outcome you want from gamification. You want it to provide something into the feedback loop to get people playing and you want players to share it and get others inspired to do the same.

Gyms and Teams

In the beginning of the game you are asked to join a team. There are only 3. Red, Blue, Yellow. Valor, Instinct, Mystic. It isn't a big deal. But then you find out what your friends picked and its different from you. This creates a sense of competition within the game among friends, family and strangers.

The value in gyms is that you can get some experience for fighting, but it also allows you to consume your stardust and candies to level up your Pokemon. By fighting and improving your Pokemon you start to have a connection directly to them. This is one of the really hard to quantify, sticky aspects of the game. A players affinity for certain characters that they've invested into can be quite a driving force in the feedback loop.

But do gyms create a sense of team and do they drive players to keep playing? Yes, this does appear to happen quite often. I consistently overhear stories from people who switched in order to be in the same team as their family members. I suspect at some point there will be an IAP to change your team or even your trainer name since you don't want people to create new accounts and change their login identity to play with their friends. But its amazing that even players as high as into their 20's have quit an account to switch teams to be with the friends.

Another great story about gyms and teams was a group I overhead talking about their level 10 gym near their home. Each night they collaborate in order to level up the gym large enough to store 10 of their yellow team Pokemon and rarely does their gym get taken. They take pride in their ability to hold it for days at a time and when it gets attacked they spend the time to build it back up. This is an amazing amount of cooperation, social interaction and a very strong feedback loop to keep playing. After all, if you stop, then its possible your team will lose their gym more often.

Gyms offer one last benefit that most people don't know about. You can get Poke Coin which is the IAP currency. You buy Poke Coin and then you buy powerful items with the Poke Coin. This is the only way to avoid paying for the game. So there is a vested interest in owning as many gyms as possible every 21 hour refresh cycle so that you can cash in and get Poke Coin. So far I've not heard of anyone exploiting this mechanic but I think its smart that there is a expert player mechanic in place to provide access to the in-game currency without paying (arguably you can make no more than $1 a day doing this do the mechanics of gyms favoring the aggressor and not the defender).

Movement as the Dominating Mechanic

I wanted to pull out the movement aspect of Pokemon GO separately from the rest of the gamification because its probably one of the most powerful mechanics in the game. Distance, in the real world, puts a cap on how fast someone can collect Pokemon, how fast they can level and ties the game to the real world clock and scale. This is hugely important because it makes certain achievements carry a lot of weight.

First, we'll start with the distance badges for the Jogger achievement. These guys start at 10km (I think, I got this so fast I forgot to screen cap it ;-) then 100km and finally 1000km. You can view my own data for the 100km achievement which I compared against the distance reported by my iPhone 6s. While the game is not accurate, it still got me out walking 100 miles in the course of 16 days. My average miles per day boosted by 3-4x. When I hit 200km and post the next table you won't even believe how this has scaled up. My second 100km will likely take only 8 or 9 days.

Since these badges are related to a real accomplishment of physical nature which is non-trivial it will be a highly coveted badge to get to 1000km.

But why do I need to walk? Can't I just stay in one spot? I could. And for all intents and purposes you could get a lot by staying in one spot. There are 3 and 4 Poke Stop locations that are constantly lured so you can sit and catch all day long. You also get 4 Poke Stops every 5 minutes this way, for 48 Poke Stops in an hour. But what about the 2000 Poke Stop achievement called Backpacker? You'll get it in 42 hours of hanging out. If you did that for 3 hours a day you'd get the achievement in about 14 days. Now, most people won't get the achievement that way nor would they sit at a quad lure spot for 3 hours a day. That's boring. But, you can walk around, get that same achievement in half the hours and have a lot more fun.

The power in Pokemon GO is how these various achievements are layered though. We have yet another reason to keep moving. It's to hatch eggs which will be the primary way that you fill in your last few Pokemon in your Pokedex. Why? Because some Pokemon are not catchable in your area and you are unlikely to drive/fly to remote regions and spend all day trying to catch a single rare, ultra rare, legendary, etc... By hatching eggs you have a chance at getting those Pokemon much sooner and much more easily than you would by physically catching them.

This egg mechanic is badged by the Breeder achievement and it requires that you hatch a LOT of eggs. Tier 1 is only 10 eggs, but tier 2 jumps to 100 and maybe tier 3 is 1000 (hopefully it jumps to 200, I should know soon enough). But this means you've walked a ton of distance. To hatch 100 of the 2km eggs would be 200km, but you can buy additional incubators that would allow you to hatch up to 9 eggs at a time and really accelerate the process. Some of your eggs will be 5km and 10km eggs though and they still count as 1 hatch and you have to hatch them to get more eggs. So at some point you'll be forced to put in some mad distance.

Eggs also give you a lot of candy and stardust. Some websites have promoted the idea that end game eggs are the primary mechanic for improving your trainer and Pokemon army. If that is the cast, be prepared to shell out some big dollars since they are the most expensive of all of the IAP ranging from $1.62 to $1.13 depending on how big your IAP purchase is. The are a consumable and only last for 3 hatches as well so you are paying up to $.50 to hatch an egg.

Hopefully you come to the same conclusion I do here. Niantic has layered an amazing number of small feedback loops all related to walking, jogging or slow biking as some people do, in order to promote movement in the game. To get people to walk around and explore the world. In addition to the in-game rewards there are many intrinsic pay-offs for you as well. Social interactions, sun, exercise, etc... This game even leverages the endorphins released while you are walking around. That is a super primal feedback loop. Anti-depression, anti-anxiety, whatever your ailment you'll feel like the game is helping you to cure yourself. In a good way ;-)

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Pokemon GO - A Player's Perspective

This article is about the many aspects of being a Pokemon GO player. While much of it will provide you with tools to optimize your experience and increase your level, there will also be some insights into the social ramifications of the game. I may add to this posting over time if there are exceptionally relevant player oriented findings from the community or if the game decides to change. This post will be quite long so I'll break it into linked sections. You should be able to quickly go to the sections that are most interesting to you. Honestly a wiki would be a better format, but there are many wikis, and they fail to distill the information down favoring to keep more of the raw data than is necessary. I'll try to avoid this.

1. Getting Started
2. Early Gotchas to Avoid
3. On the Move Optimizations
4. Power Leveling
5. Gym Strategies
6. Pay to Play Optimizations

Getting Started

This is the only section that will be about the social experiences of the game. Pokemon GO is very simplistic. When you first launch you'll be asked to log in using either a Google (G+) account or to create a Pokemon Trainer account. This is up to you. You can also pick a nick-name for your account and this will be visible to others when you perform some actions in the game (such as put a lure at a Poke Stop).

Once you are logged in, you'll see a Pokemon version of your map. To the left is a picture of what this looks like. I'm currently sitting in a Starbucks and the GPS has placed me outside about 30 feet away in an area with some Poke Stops (those little squares are Poke Stops and they turn into spinning circles when you get close to them). You'll want to stop by these a lot. When you click on them, they show you  some information about a landmark that they represent and you can spin them to get items. The items will be Poke Balls, Potions, Revive Candy and Eggs.

In the upper right of the screenshot you'll see a Poke Stop with some confetti, flowers, whatever you want to call it. That Poke Stop has been "lured" and will attract more Pokemon than usual. Once you are in the game and you see one of those head that way. You'll find two things. More Pokemon and more people. Usually one does not set a Lure and leave the area since that would be a waste of money and resources. So go to that area and be social. The game is about being social.

What else is the game about other than catching Pokemon? Well, its about moving. Since each Poke Stop only resets every 5 minutes or so you are prompted to walk between them if you want to collect more stuff. I highly recommend getting the exercise and enjoying the outdoors. Earlier I also mentioned Eggs, which only hatch if you walk a distance of 2, 5 or 10km. The game really sucks at measuring distance, so normally double the km to really hatch the egg. So the game offers many mechanics that have you moving around so by moving around you are going to get  lot more of the benefits of the game.

Once you've walked around a bit, you'll probably have found some Pokemon on the map. Clicking them takes you to a battle screen. Here you have a pokeball at the bottom you are expected to toss at the critter. When you first start this will be trivial and all Pokemon will be low level. Once you get higher level though the ring around the Pokemon will change colors from green all the way to red, indicating the likelihood of success. You also want to throw when the ring is smaller since that also increases the capture chance. So press and hold the pokeball, wait for the ring to get small, then flick it upwards towards the Pokemon. If you hit it, you'll attempt a capture. It may still get out, but try again until you catch it or it runs away. I won't explain this mechanic thoroughly since it is more intuitive to discover yourself.

When talking to others, make sure to pick up on some of the lingo. For instance, a Lure Module is now often called a magnet or party (since the stop looks like a party is happening once installed). Also, learn the names of the various Pokemon. If you haven't played the game before then this can be daunting but common language is a great social lubricant. You'll learn tons of stuff like where special Pokemon spawn and where others will be placing lots of Lure Modules.

Lastly be safe. Its summer time and its hot. Stay hydrated as much as possible. Make sure you have sunscreen if you will be outside in the sun for extended periods of time. More importantly, make sure you have enough power to play. Buy a power brick and extra cable so you can keep your phone charged at all times. Nothing stops a Poke hunt like a dead iPhone.

That's it. Play around with catching and grabbing items from stops. Don't worry about gyms, evolving your Pokemon or anything else until you've read the next section.

Early Gotchas to Avoid

With every game there are some easy mistakes to make when playing it the way it was designed to be played. This section covers a few of those mistakes so you can avoid them. This should help you level up faster and more efficiently while hopefully enjoying the game even more than you would otherwise.

Turn off AR
First off, there is an AR mode in Pokemon GO that allows you to super impose Pokemon on top of an image coming through the pass through camera. Turn this off immediately (or play with it, then turn it off once you hit level 5). Why? There are two reasons. First, it requires that you turn around and orient your phone in odd ways. Sometimes pointing it towards the sky to catch a Zubat for instance. This will slow down your play time and burn more battery. By turning it off you can play in whatever orientation you choose and you don't have to spin around to find the Pokemon. Less fun? Maybe, but after my first couple hundred catches in AR, turning it off was a welcome relief.

Pay $10 for Poke Coins and Buy Storage Space!
I can't stress this enough. For all of the following sections I am going to assume that you have bought at least 2 Pokemon Storage upgrades. I also recommend 4 Bag Upgrades for more items. This will get you up to 350 Pokemon and 550 items. This is a sweet spot for this game. You won't run out of space, you won't constantly transfer, you WILL spend more time catching Pokemon you WILL have MOAR FUN!

Do Not Evolve
Save your evolves for when you have lucky eggs. You get lucky eggs at every 5th level. So at level 5 you'll get 1 lucky egg. You want every lucky egg to bring you 50K+ experience points through, you got it, evolves. For first time evolves that log to your Pokedex you get even more experience, so rather than prematurely evolving a Pokemon wait until you'll get the maximum effect of it. This will help you once you get into the 20s if you plan to continue playing.

Note: I messed this up because I didn't come up with the evolve strategy until I hit 12 and then later confirmed the strategy with some Twitch streamers.

Do NOT Power Up
Save your dust. This was another mistake I made until I hit 12. I came up with an evolve and power up strategy at about the same time. Basically it costs the same to power up your lower tier Pokemon as it does your higher tier Pokemon, so there is no need to power up your Eevee to get a more powerful evolved form, since you can wait to see if you get the RIGHT evolved form with the RIGHT special moves first and then you can power it up later. This saves you a ton of dust. It also saves you a TON OF CANDY which you need for more evolves which do give you experience points towards leveling.

In the early game power ups don't matter. Levels matter. Higher levels means higher base CP Pokemon that you can simply catch. You don't waste any dust this way and you can then use it on your later levels once you have some god-like Pokemon. I currently have 185k dust. I'm level 24 and I still don't think its a good time to use my dust. I'll use it later, once I have some 2500+ base CP Pokemon and I want to get them into the 3k range.

Do NOT use Lucky Eggs, Lures, Incense, etc...
You'll want to save this stuff for when you are at a great space with several Poke Stops in range and you can cycle around them. Incense increases your attract rate and Lures increase the attract rate of the Poke Stops. Used together you can start landing Pokemon at speeds of 1 per minute or faster. We'll discuss more strategies for Lures and Incense later.

Do NOT Throw Crazy Curves
Someone will invariably show you how to throw curve balls. They don't offer enough value to you in terms of experience points and they waste a lot of balls. You'll have to throw curve balls soon enough when the Pokemon cause your throws to spin away from them and you have to compensate. Don't waste the balls.

Do NOT Attack Gyms
Attacking gyms is a core game mechanic so why not do it? We will get into this later, but in the beginning your should build up your collection of potions and revives. You'll burn through these later when it matters more and when you can employ some strategies that net you more EXP and Poke Coins.

That's all Folks
You now know what not to do. What should you do? Well, just go out, move around, and catch Pokemon. Catching Pokemon is the primary driver for your experience points. You get 100 EXP per catch + some bonuses for good throws + some first time catch bonuses for adding new Pokemon to your Pokedex. All of the rest of our strategies rely on you catching LOTS of Pokemon. At the time of this writing I have 1750 catches (which you can find under the Collector badge for your trainer).

On the Move Optimizations

By this point I expect you to have run around like crazy hatching eggs, collecting Poke Stops and you have a ton of Pokemon in your pack. Here are some optimizations that can help make all of that go much, much smoother. You may have already discovered these along the way, but if you haven't they'll be pure gold.

Trick #1 - Cancel out of Poke Stops to Auto Collect the Rewards - This is critical for drive by poke stop collecting and even works in a car going at a moderate clip. Please make sure you are the passenger when doing this ;-)

Trick #2 - Stay on the Move - If you want to catch more Pokemon or hit more stops you have to cover distance. You can cover a LOT of distance while you are in the capture screen. Don't think you have to stop and stand in your location. While moving too far seems to increase the chance of runaways it isn't much. I've actually caught one Pokemon from a car after holding it through to the end of a New York tunnel and getting back my cell signal.

Trick #3 - Find Triple and Quadruple Stop Zones - There are more of these than you might think. They bring in a lot of opportunity for others setting lures and so by swarming on these locations you can get lots of items and lots of opportunity to catch under multiple lures. A great example of a quad stop is BJs in Redmond Town Center, Redmond, WA

Trick #4 - Buy Those Bag and Pokemon Storage Upgrades - There are two modes you will be in. Collecting Pokemon and collecting items. When you are going hard on Pokemon with a 4 lure stop you will quickly run out of stuff. Having a larger inventory can help make sure you come stocked up and prepared. Having the Pokemon storage space ensures you don't have to transfer often.

Trick #5 - Transfer during Dead Times - Even with 4 lured stops there will be dead zones. Use this time to transfer and listen for vibrations so you can tell when new things spawn to catch. Focus on transferring large groups of one type that you are catching a lot of. Usually caterpie, wheedle, spearow and pidgeys.

Getting around in your Pokemon storage can be hard. They've implemented a really good inertial scroll. You can flick hard from the top almost all the way down to the bottom (of a 350 Pokemon storage, which is pretty darn far). Use this to quickly get back to where you were for transfers.

Trick #6 - Battery, battery, battery - Being on the move means burning the battery. Your iPhone will last maybe 2 hours if you are lucky. There are two tricks here. External battery pack is the easiest, but it does cost some money. I paid 40 bucks for a 22000mAh battery that charges my phone 9 times on a single charge. I'm unstoppable. You can be too.

Turning off AR as we mentioned earlier will also help. As will turning off sounds and music in the settings (the in game settings, not the iPhone settings, this may be urban myth, but after running 2 days with the game settings off it does seem to have helped). Finally, use the battery saver mode in the game. When you turn your phone upside down it blanks the screen for you. Note this seems to lower the GPS queries too though so there may be more delay before you are notified of things happening. I've found with all of the other battery tricks I have up my sleeve, that the built-in battery saver is unnecessary.

Trick #7 - Use more than 1 Incubator - I found a lot of people don't realize they get incubators at multiple of 5 levels that are 3 use (not like the infinite 1). Keep those things loaded at all times. You are on the move so make those km count double, triple (all the way up to 9 times ;-)

Power Leveling

What you've all been waiting for. The numbers for power leveling. It turns out power leveling in the game is pretty easy. There are just a couple of mechanics that really increase your experience gain immensely over short periods of time. Everything else is just a trickle.

For basic Pokemon catching, you get approximately 110 experience points per capture. This is an average of your normal catch of 100 + any bonuses you might get. You normally don't get bonuses so even the larger bonuses like excellent (100) and great (50) really average to the low end. Taking time to try and get more bonuses may be worthwhile but it cuts down on your overall movement and requires much greater concentration while playing.

If you are in a great location catching 1 Pokemon per minute, this results in only about 6.1k per hour. Of course in the same time you will likely hatch an egg or two, at another 1k (assuming 2 5k eggs at 500 experience each) etc... As you can see catching isn't about getting that much experience, its more about obtaining the right Pokemon for later evolution.

Let's imagine we did blow 2 lucky eggs for that hour, then our overall experience would be somewhere around 13k per hour. Those 2 lucky eggs would cost you anywhere from $1.70 down to $0.78 according to my IAP conversion guide. I'll refer to this guide quite a bit I think so probably get it opened up and study it a bit.

It also assumes though that either we or someone else was running a 3 or 4 lure stop which would have been another $2+. If you have the spare money or you lack time to play the game for extended periods this can certainly be a strategy. So I'll document this as our first strategy.

Strategy #1 - Lucky Eggs + Lure Modules - ROI (Medium) - Use a combination of lure modules and lucky eggs to maximize your time to value ratio of catching Pokemon. For about $3 an hour you can achieve a 13k+ depending on your overall performance.

A second strategy that you might have tried to employ is gym fighting. Gym fighting gives fairly low experience values related to the fame level of the gym. You can basically divide the fame level by 10 and that is about how much experience points are available. It will take multiple fights to get it back and we'll cover this process more in our gym fights section. For now lets document it as a Strategy.

Strategy #2 - Lucky Eggs + High Fame Gyms - ROI (Low) - I'm marking this as well because a single gym fight may return anywhere from 150 to 350 experience points, take a minute or more per fight, and require use of healing items once the fight is complete. This is NOT a good power leveling strategy.

How DO we make a bunch of experience points without spending a ton of money? The best way is to save your evolves and discoveries. Each evolve is worth 500 experience points and each new discovery in the Pokedex is worth 500 experience points as well. If augmented with a lucky egg these can be doubled to 1k each.

If a lucky egg lasts for 30 minutes and each evolve takes between 20-30 seconds you can evolve somewhere between 60-90. I've done 69 and had to do some transfers and still had 1 minute left at the end. So I'm guessing 75 might be the max here. And it will be dependent on the server stability and speed. We will lowball at 60 for now.

60 evolves at 500 each is 30k double is 60k. So you can get 60k in about 30 minutes time which clearly destroys the lucky eggs + lure modules strategy. Let's write this down and then provide more details on HOW it should work.

Strategy #3 - Lucky Eggs + Evolutions + Discoveries - ROI (Super High) - This one has an amazing ROI. Even if you buy a lucky egg each time you want to do this at the 99 cents rate, you are still spending less than a dollar every time.

How do you get 60 evolves? You rely on Pokemon which have a very low candy to evolve ratio that are also very common. Right now there are two Pokemon which are stellar performers and they are Pidgey and Weedle. Each takes 12 candy to evolve and is very easy to find and catch. While Caterpie are also 12 they are much harder to catch and find making them slightly less interesting.

Another good thing about these 3 is that once you evolve their 3rd forms the first time, you can stop evolving their third forms. Since the third form evolution takes 50 candy, which is more than 4 times the base evolution, you can end up getting a lot more evolves once you can ignore the later evolutions.

But that is NOT all. There are more tricks here. Let's look at what happens when you evolve a 12 candy critter. First, you get back 1 candy for the evolve (so its now cost you 11) and if you convert the second tier into a candy via Transfer then you get down to 10 candy per. To get 10 candy, you have to catch 3 Pokemon which gives you 9 candy, and convert 2 of them, which gets you to 11. So for every 3 catches you can get a 1k evolve under a lucky egg.

In our next tier of 25 candy you have the Rattata. This is the only guy in this tier. Perhaps in other areas/regions some of the other 25 candy Pokemon are common, but not for me in either New York or Seattle areas. You can usually get 4-8 Rattata evolves in a round helping you to get to that 60-70 golden zone.

The last tier is the 50 candy tier and this contains Spearow and Zubat Pokemon. Again, there are many other Pokemon in this 50 candy tier, but they are not very common in my experience and so aren't as interesting.

The last step is to build yourself a spreadsheet. Mine looks something like the following:

Evolutions Computation Table
Name Count Candy Candy To Level Evolves Next Evolve Experience
Abra 2 18 25 0 7 0
Bellsprout 1 22 25 0 3 0
Bulbasaur 2 9 25 0 16 0
Caterpie 4 60 12 5 12 2500
Clefairy 3 63 50 1 37 500

I plot how many I have, how many candies, how many candy to level and then compute a simple conversion that does not take into account the re-evolutions that I get from cashing in. I just do that in my head, but you could clearly put it into the calculations itself. You sum up the Evolves column and when it hits your target you go.

Trick #1 - Let Transfers help your Next Level - Try not to count transfer candy since it takes time. Instead save that for your next evolution set. You may already be up to 10 evolves into your next power leveling session if you do it right.

Trick #2 - Cash Out Tier 2's - Once you have evolved your Metapod and your Kakuna, don't even bother anymore. Just cash them in directly. This is how you get to the 10 candy per evolution level and get some super fast turnarounds on your next power leveling session.

Trick #3 - Save your Discoveries - If you can save your discoveries. In the beginning of the game, this is about 60-80k worth of extra experience for you. If you do it right, you could go from level 5 to 10 in one go, turn around in another day and go from 10 to 15 using that extra experience points from logging to your Pokedex.

Trick #4 - Do Discoveries First - You never know if the game is going to give you a hard time or crash. So do your discoveries early in the process. Then save your bulk evolves until the end and do as many as you can until your time runs out.

Your final strategy will probably have you combining these in some way. For instance, to get more critters to evolve you might spend some cash on lures. Maybe you save the lucky eggs for just the evolve stage or maybe you splurge and use it on both. The ROI on a lucky egg is clearly the highest when doing evolves. Its only about 10% effective when doing catching, but if you have the spares that might be okay. Also using larger IAP purchases and buying in bulk can help drive the prices down.

Gym Strategies

In the beginning gyms are a huge waste of time but there are some things you an do to optimize your time spent and rewards when working with gyms. I'll tackle gyms in 3 ways. First, attacking them, then defending them, and finally blitzing gyms for more Poke Coin.

Attack Gyms
When attacking gyms it is not critical that you beat every tier. You only need to beat a single tier to drive the gym's reputation down. You do get more incremental value each time you beat another level. This will mean more experience points (slightly more) but also a high reputation loss for the gym. The only critical thing is that you beat the first guy otherwise you won't lower the gyms reputation at all.

Optimize for fighting the first guy in the gym and once you beat him, feel free to leave. you'll weaken the gym, get 150 experience points and be able to repeat. But this isn't it. You also want to optimize your item usage. I bet you have more revives than anything else. So it can be a strategy to try and use them.

Trick #1 - Do the Next Tier or Die Trying! - If you get lucky you'll beat the next level and get more experience points, but if you die you can use a Revive to get half your health back and save yourself on potions. Death is NOT the end of a Pokemon!

Once you beat a gym, don't bother putting a Pokemon in there. You don't get anything for holding onto gems normally. There is an exception, which I'll talk about later in blitzing gyms.

Trick #2 - Don't Trust the Auto Select - Seriously it is really bad. Pick a Pokemon you think is going to be good and learn the strengths and weaknesses. You'll be much happier. They almost never pick my Vaporeon but yet I can destroy nearly any gym with it.

Defend Gyms
Don't do it. Don't defend. But that doesn't mean you can't buff them up to the next level. By fighting you can get up to 500 reputation per win to help level up the gym. To go along with that you'll get about 1/10th in the form of experience points. So a single battle can net you 50 experience points and 500 gym reputation assuming you know what you are doing.

To get the max out of a gym buff, attack with a Pokemon which is lower level than the one you are going to fight against. If you win at a lower CP value, then you get 500 whereas if you have even 1 CP more you get 100. That's a big difference. You could technically try to right with a Pokemon lower than say the second guy in the gym and beat both the first and second guy and still get 100+500 reputation for your gym, but the more levels you go through the harder it will be since you'll lose a lot of health along the way.

Trick #3 - Counter the Lowest Guy in the Gym with a Lower Guy - A quick and dirty 500 reputation to buff the gym and get it to the next level and 50 experience points to you for helping out your gym.

If you feel like you have to put a guy in the gym, then put a Pokemon you don't like to use. Since they'll be trapped in the gym until someone beats them. You don't want to lose your favorite Pokemon all day long if you plan on attacking other gyms.

Blitz Gyms
There is a special feature in the shop that allows you to get Poke Coin based on the number of gyms that you re defending. It took me a long time to find this feature, but after surfing some forums I found and realized its existence, tested it out, and yep it totally works. You can get Poke Coin from your gyms every 21 hours or once per day (the three hours is a grace period that allows you to not have to do it at exactly the same time every day, which is very nice).

In the images you can see a Collect Now! button at the top of the shop. And it has a shield with a number. This is the number of gyms you are currently defending. Since defending a gym hours before you want to cash out would probably result in you losing the gym by the time your cash out came by the strategy here is to go blitz gyms and then cash out immediately. This is surprisingly tricky with so many people playing so here are the tricks you need to know.

First and foremost gyms your team already owns are safer but take longer to put your Pokemon in. So look for gyms that have fewer Pokemon than levels and immediately insert yourself into those gyms.

Trick #1 - Load your Pokemon into your Team's Gyms when they don't have enough defenders.

The next step is to boost your own gyms that don't have any empty slots. This takes a while. So use the defense strategy above to get 500 reputation each time and boost that gym and claim your throne.

Trick #2 - Boost existing Gyms to Add a Slot

Finally, you'll need to go on the offensive and take out others gyms. This is usually a quick thing to do compared to boosting your own gyms which is why you do it last. It is also likely to go noticed and so you can use this as a strategy to avoid having the gyms retaken. Newly taken gyms are very weak with only your single Pokemon in there.

You could use some friends to do this and it would go much faster. Remember, this is a social game and friends are a good thing to have when you need to take out a high level gym or want to boost a gym.

Trick #3 - Route Planning and the Drive By

The last trick is use a car. Plan a route and do a drive by. My neighborhood has 7 gyms in a sequence that I can drive in the morning to get up to 7 shields before I cash in. I got up to 5 before I noticed someone attacking one of the gyms I was defending so I had to cash out earlier. A good route can get you 5-10 gyms in 10-20 minutes which is just fast enough to work so you have time to cash out.