Thursday, July 28, 2016

Pokemon GO - Gamification Multipliers and Game Balance

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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.

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