Tuesday, July 19, 2016

In True Chef Style - PokemonGO three ways

When Pokemon GO released on July 6th I naturally thought everyone would just get it. Pokemon has always been a huge franchise, location aware mobile applications are at the top of the charts and anything social takes off with the millenials. There are numerous location aware and social applications that are pervasive, that we use nearly every day, but they all have a time of use. You use Yelp when you are hungry, Flixster when you want to watch a movie, Google Maps when you are lost. Now, instead of a time, activity specific application we plant a game. A game that has no time limits, nothing you have to buy to play more, nothing to control your natural addictive impulses to keep playing. You keep playing because you can and also because you, "Gotta Catch em All!"

Not everyone gets it though. I hear a lot of complaints from people about how players are crowding into areas they previously felt were somehow their own. That kids are out "WALKING AROUND" too much now, shouldn't they be doing something else? That the game is too addictive and people spend too much time playing it. Of course all of this is true, in both the negative and positive sense.

Kids ARE walking around, socializing, getting exercise. Its summer, where else would you want them to be? At home playing video games or watching television? But it isn't just kids. Its teenagers, adults, seniors, pretty much everyone is getting in on it. They are walking their environment, making unsafe places safe with sheer numbers. I learned about more than 150 things in New York that even New Yorkers don't know about. I found Central Perk! I found great graffiti art areas. I spent hours in Central Park in places that I'm told were previously unsafe to be in. All the while logging 2-3 times more miles per day on average than I had in the previous year.

What about those personal places though? Can't I have those back? You know the ones that are now crowded with people playing Pokemon GO? The ones that EVERYONE's tax dollars pay for that are now getting used the way they should be? Well, you can't have those back and everyone should be excited that those places are packed now. Its more likely they'll continue to be funded and improved if the public uses them. They are probably safer too with more people around.

Businesses love it I hear. They get increased foot traffic and sales on high profit items like bottles of water. I bet every street vendor in New York wanted to be on the corners of Central Park with over 500 players per block all getting hungry, needing food, water and battery. The Apple store probably sold out of lightning cables and power bricks.

That addictive quality though, that has to be bad right? Let's flip that for a minute. If you found something that got people addicted to diet and exercise and improved the overall social health, would that be bad? Sure, if everyone became unhealthily skinny it would be terrible. But otherwise you'd be a medical genius that saved the unhealthy and obese US from itself. Hearing kids talk about taking about needing to keep moving to hatch their 5k/10k eggs is great. They could sit next to a couple of lures, but yet they are compelled to walk around to get even more riches. The Egg mechanic is a stroke of genius only tarnished by Niantic's terrible distance tracking.

If you didn't get it before do you get it now? Its a good thing for people to find a reason to get outside, exercise, socialize and have fun. Everyone is discovering their cities, parks, new shops and helping businesses. You don't even have to play in order to get it, but you have to accept it for all of its positive values.

Okay, so how am I going to break down Pokemon GO three ways? For the next 3 days I'm going to write 3 articles. Each article will target Pokemon GO from a completely different point of observation. As a player, as a technology and gamification expert and finally as a developer. To keep you interested here is a short abstract for each.

Pokemon GO - A Player's Perspective

As a player and someone who excels at just about any game they play I'm going to share some tips and tricks that many people don't realize will help them get more out of the game. Simple tricks like turning off AR mode for less distracting play, how to quick collect pokestops and even how to best spend your money should you choose to do so. This article will provide many statistics and calculations relevant to people who want to power level or maximize their time/value of play.

This article is now live at Pokemon GO - A Players Perspective

Pokemon GO - Gamification for Social Change

For days I've wandered around asking questions, taking photos and listening to Pokemon GO players. I've done so from Redmond, Kirkland, Bellevue (WA state) and also from the hustle and bustle of New York City, NY. I've watched as a shared vocabulary is created and even helped transport some words between the coasts as I share my experiences with others. I've watched it break down social barriers between people who would probably never share a word, yet when prompted for information about Pokemon GO they freely share it (sometimes even without the prompting). I've eavesdropped on conversations where even kids themselves acknowledge that if they weren't out catching Pokemon they'd be at home by themselves doing something else, not nearly as exciting or social.

I hope to distill these experiences into something that we can take action on as a community of gamification experts. While Pokemon GO is doing nothing out of the ordinary and offers no unique and new gamification concepts, it does prove out a large set of techniques that have not been shown to work at this large scale before.

Pokemon GO - As an Engineer I'm Dying Inside

When breaking down Pokemon GO as an engineer who builds games, works on large software projects, scalable server systems and even mobile apps from time to time, I literally pitch a fit every time the game hangs. The game is the thinnest of facades on top of a synchronous networking stack using the most simplistic of tricks to hide this reality. Every time I hang downloading the same image I've downloaded before that wasn't cached, I curse the developer who decided to invoke Knuth's ruling on premature optimization when just the simplest of caches would have done wonders.

This game was clearly an MVP (minimum viable product) and it proved its worth quickly. Then the developers decided that on such a fragile and failing system they'd roll out to more countries (who does that?). I can only guess they wanted to set some world record on number of installs and DAUs (daily active users). Somehow, even through all of this failure, they put enough duct tape on the servers to keep people happy enough to keep playing. They taught an entire generation of users how to swipe up to kill an app in the process, but people keep coming back for more so they clearly have a winner and hopefully will figure out how to redesign and scale the back end.

Not knowing the immense loads this game was really under, I won't claim that all of this could have been avoided. Most likely there are some aspects of even a great architecture that would have failed. There are lessons to be learned though and maybe I can distill some by analyzing how the game itself responds and recovers from failure (or fails to recover from failure).

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