Gotta Catch 'em All!

Romina Vargas


Romina Vargas

If you haven’t yet heard of Pokemon GO, you might be living under a rock. Or under an Onyx. Pokemon GO was released on July 7, 2016 in the United States and it immediately became viral. It’s a mobile application that makes use of the GPS and camera to bring the user an Augmented Reality experience by allowing them to catch Pokemon in a real-world environment. The game encourages its users to go outside and become the Pokemon Masters they always dreamed of being, or now dream of being. Talk about nostalgia. Even if one didn’t grow up with the franchise, the newly-released game is still revolutionary due to its immersive nature and social aspect. Like much of the world, most DockYarders have picked up the game and some would like to share their thoughts and experiences with you!

Maria M: Pokemon GO UX Lessons

I took four days to experiment casually with the game - and looked over the shoulder of a few others with a far more serious approach to it. Here’s what I learned about UX design.

11:30pm, near downtown Boston

I’m an observer right now, not actively playing. Pleasant summer night in Boston and a whole lot of people are walking circles around the body of water near the Christian Science Center - a complex made up of a large cathedral and an even larger administrative building. Normally, the area is pretty empty at this hour. Not everyone is staring directly down at their phone screen, but I can pretty much tell who is playing the game and who is here for other reasons. The players are all in their 20s, and come from a similar demographic, about half white and half Asian. (This does not represent what I have seen in Boston on average, or even in the Boston tech and design scene.)


Once I got adjusted to the sight of the chill looking crowds gathering in spaces that are normally emptier, I realize what looks “off” about the situation. It’s the feeling I might get on a college campus tour, when everyone’s around my age. I am guessing the earliest adopters of Pokemon GO very clearly the people of more access to games and the Internet and technology in general. I spot just one family with a stroller - and they stand out. I realize that just being able to gather here unencumbered by 6am school drop-offs, caring for a family, or working several jobs represents privilege and access to leisure that not everyone has.

I think this reveals that we often end up designing for folks just like us. Early adopters of the Pokemon GO are probably similar to the first users who sign up for many web apps, and even though we assume we’re making something that’s good for the “general public” we’re often actually catering only to ourselves.

The space

Obviously one of the reasons that the game is so addicting is that it uses 3-D space to play the game. You physically have to be close to an object to claimant in the game and geolocation is playing a major role in making that happen. The game is designed for walking on foot but sometimes you can cheat a little bit and for example the on the bike or claim some of the objects from a public bus. But in either case I found that I’ve learned remarkably well after just a few attempts exactly how close I have to be physically to a marks location in order to claim it. I think this is especially interesting because before this I had a general sense of how accurate things like GPS and Wi-Fi are to locate me in 3-D space but now I have a physical sense in my body exactly how far I need to walk to or from the corner to be within reach of a specific object on the 3-D map. If nothing else, the game will vastly improve our understanding of the accuracy of GPS and Wi-Fi location tracking.

When a digital experience works, it changes the world

The third takeaway for me is a really hopeful one. Obviously I’m not going to be the only one who says that his game is changing the world. People are not just sitting or walking staring at their phones by themselves. They are chatting with other people, yelling out when when they successfully capture rare Pokémon they really wanted and in general or just smiling at each other. I assume these are the same people who would normally sit at home by themselves staring at the personal screen and not talking to anyone. And even though we fight around the same damn pool of water near the Christian science center about seven times already, I’m getting a fun romantic evening walk with my s/o, when normally at this time I would have been staring blankly at my own screen.

He just informed me that it is midnight and we should probably leave so we could get home in time to get a little bit asleep before starting work tomorrow. But overall it was a fairly nice night and he seems happy as well.

But more importantly, the experience people are having in this park and in many places in the world right now with this game is not virtual — it’s real. And it gives me hope because when working for a long time on complex products it’s easy to get discouraged. When you’re tired, it’s easy to slip into thinking that whatever you’re making will not make a difference. This game offers us a reminder for me of real change in the physical world that can happen when an interaction is built just right.

“Broken tech culture is seeing the success of Pokémon Go & attributing it to AR instead of a huge 25-year-old global cultural phenomenon.”

Anil Dash

Cory T: Expert user point of view

With walking everywhere and following PokemonGoHub on Twitter, I have been appointed DockYard Pokemon GO expert! This game has been on my radar ever since one of the first teasers surfaced online and the nostalgia hits you like a punch from Rocky Balboa.

Ten minutes after Pokemon GO was available in the Play Store (thanks Twitter) I had the game downloaded and caught my first and favorite Pokemon of all time, Squirtle. After seeing Squirtle in my Pokedex I legitimately felt like I was back in 4th-6th grade collecting Pokemon cards in my 3-ringed binder. Crazy thing is I now I have my own freaking Pokedex on my phone with Pokemon I caught in the real world!

Nostalgia aside, I might have a different opinion on the UX of the game.

I like it.

For example, Pokemon GO doesn’t tell you to spin the ball in order to throw curve balls (this makes it easy to catch rare Pokemon). The mechanics on how to fight a gym is never explained. How to pick what your Eevee will evolve into is not obvious.

Does this game tell you how to do anything? No. But, I actually like figuring out how to play this game - socializing with other people about new tricks they have found has been great.

What I want to see

  • Web app that lets me manage my Pokemon online
  • Pokemon trading (coming very soon according to Pokemon GO)
  • Have the ability to select multiple Pokemon and transfer them to Professor Ashe
    • Currently 3 clicks to transfer a Pokemon
  • Currently the game is a grind to find the best version of a specific Pokemon species, I would rather invest and care for one that I catch and train the Pokemon new attacks and upgrade its statistics. Will make them more personable and pet-like

Pro tip: If you want to actually know what your Eevee will evolve into compared to the random selection, give Eevee the desired nickname. This should work every time unless there is a bug/glitch. The trainers of Vaporeon, Flareon and Jolteon in episode 40 of the TV show are the key to this trick:

  • Pyro = Flareon
  • Sparky = Jolteon
  • Rainer = Vaporeon

Patrick B: Resister Turned Lover

Generally when an audience as large as…well…seemingly the entire world…takes notice of an application, game or service, I start my relationship with said application, game or service with resistance. Not because I don’t want to involve myself but because I want to witness the reactions of others. I’m not judging people using it. I’m observing people using it. Eventually I give in (usually after patch 1 or 2) and then compile my thoughts and assemble my like or dislike for the application, game or service.

This process has never been harder than with Pokemon GO. Perhaps it’s because no application for a mobile device has become this popular this quickly. Perhaps it’s because I love(d) Pokemon and don’t want to tarnish my grand memories of the franchise. Perhaps it’s because…it wouldn’t install the first few attempts.

I resisted hard at the beginning. One week later, I’m level 13 and furiously collecting as many Pokemon as I can. I love it as much as I hoped I would. I love it as a designer. I love it as a casual fan of Pokemon. I love it as a heavy gamer. My mother loves it. My brother loves it. My cousin loves it. None of them design, game or were ever engulfed in the world of Pokemon.

At the very least, you should try Pokemon GO. Perhaps you’ll love it too. Here are four reasons why in one week you just might find yourself taking notice to the game everyone’s talking about:


If you were at all in tune with video games through the 90s and 00s, you’re inevitably familiar with at least the name “Pokemon.” However if you’re familiar with the name, you likely fell hard in love to some degree with the Pokemon empire (whether you’d like to admit it or not). If you traded, collected or sold the cards you’re very likely to enjoy this game. If you were consumed by the colored Gameboy games you’re very likely to enjoy this game. If you dreamt of the Snap or Stadium realms being real environments for you to roam and interact with beyond the 64 joystick you’re very likely to enjoy this game. If you’ve lived by Nintendo platforms in general you’re very likely to enjoy this game. What once was a game then became an empire. That empire is now an entire world.

We Love Collecting

While it remains a strange compulsion, it’s no secret that people like to collect things. Cars, video games, sports memorabilia, sneakers, art, you name it and there are people who focus on collecting as much of it as they can. There’s an addictive pleasure to finding something that may have been lost or perhaps evaded us for some time. Dating back to the Victorians, the act of collecting items has been a consistent habit driven by both necessity and desire. The entire Pokemon franchise is heavily built on this addictive action. It’s why we see their playing cards sold for thousands of dollars. It’s why an entire video game can be built around simply discovering and photographing objects. And it’s partially why people are taking time to feverishly compile libraries of Pokemon in their Pokedex sometimes entirely omitting from their play the many other aspects of the game. The idea of collection is built directly into their brand. You just “gotta catch them all!” It’s a challenge we secretly love.

Augmented Reality

While VR (virtual reality) is undoubtedly all the rage, there’s something to be said about AR (augmented reality). Let’s look at it in the context of Pokemon GO: It can be created without extra hardware, it’s portable in that it’s reliant on a mobile device, it doesn’t cost much, and it fuses fictional subjects with the reality of your environment – an actual, unprogrammed, environment. VR, while amazing in its own right for so many reasons, relies on those things AR doesn’t. This isn’t to say Pokemon GO is popular because of its emphasis on AR, but it proves that an AR driven experience can still be immensely successful. Before we strap on our head gear, what opportunities can this success story shed light on?

UX Exposure

It’s not a secret that the Pokemon GO application has kinks. On an average day, I have to close and restart the application several times do to it freezing or completely crashing. Do I care? No because I’m addicted. When I installed Pokemon GO it failed to install, and then failed to create my account two times. In fact I uninstalled it for a day I was so frustrated. But here I am a week later using it. As a visual designer in a UX word, this exposure to conflicts and failures has actually caught my attention, mostly because I’ve forced myself to experience them knowing the payoff will be worth it. It’s allowed me to take notice of how the visuals handle failures on the server side. It’s allowed me to take notice of my behaviors when failures do happen. Do I wait to close the app? How long do I wait? When do I notice it’s not working correctly? How is this represented by the field of view? Is the AR functionality instigating it? Because I’ve experienced the pleasure of playing, and am willing to suffer to an extent, I’ve allowed myself to be content with its failures so much so that it’s begun to provide me insight into aspects of the actual application I may not have given the time to. Maybe it’ll result in a useless collection of observations. But maybe it’ll result in my paying attention to these aspects more so in the next project I’m involved in. Nevertheless, it’s a remarkable feat to be so successful yet still provide so many instances of frustration unrelated to the game itself.

DockYard is a digital product agency offering exceptional user experience, design, full stack engineering, web app development, custom software, Ember, Elixir, and Phoenix services, consulting, and training.


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