Not Gonna Catch ‘em All

Remember when everyone was playing Pokémon Go? Some of us stuck with it.

Shannon and I dove in with everyone else, and eventually integrated it into our walking routine. It started as professional curiosity. Given her experience in game design and mine with scalable system architecture, it was fascinating to watch the game mechanics evolve and even more interesting to see how they failed to handle the crush of popularity. I’m sure we weren’t the only nerds complaining about specific network services being under-provisioned relative to others.

The “AR” graphics were a disappointment, but with design clients curious about buzzwords, it is worth being familiar with trendy implementations. More interesting was the reality overlay in terms of location. Playing the game, you begin to weave the virtual world atop your mental map of the real world. Sticking with the game, we were experimenting with how that would work over time. (I’d tried Ingress briefly, but without any friends playing lost interest too quickly.)

To that end, we eventually bought the horribly named hardware peripheral that let us interact with the virtual world without using the phone. I was expecting that to be very interesting, but the actual usage meant the vibrate-click interaction was so common it felt like a stress relief tool without any connection to place.

We were hooked, though, and after playing for two years already even upgraded to clever [hacked fitness trackers] that replaced that with a keyfob that plays automatically. At that point, the experiment in augmented location was over and we were playing for the collection and social aspects.

When Niantic launched their third mapping game, Harry Potter, it was interesting to experience trying to play in two of these worlds at once. I found it very frustrating to have two virtual worlds with different windows into them. As a result, I think anyone hoping to sell glasses will need a strong integration platform.

After 18 months with the auto-catching keyfob, Besides the collecting game, I now find drawn mostly to watch Niantic evolve the game, as an unfolding case study in product management. That alone isn’t enough to keep up with the tamagotchi play or ensure the keyfob is connected throughout the day.

Worst of all, that case study is infuriating! They continue to add content, evolve gameplay mechanics, and experiment with features. Meanwhile, basic UI flaws persist, and new functionality is grafted on in ways that look like a new designer was hired that hates the last one. (The player community on Reddit complains about these as “quality of life” issues.) The missed opportunities with the Apple Watch astound me so much I want to invest in a competitor who sees them.

So I’ve lost interest enough to stop checking the app. I’m sure I’ll still revisit when traveling, but as happens with my addictions, only a short time off is enough to kill the urge.

For the archives, 3 1/2 years of daily play added up to:

  • 10,286 km walked
  • 105,012 Pokémon caught
  • 530 types seen, 524 caught
  • 40,319,313 XP

I posted this in January 2020 during week 2391.

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