Why Pokémon GO Works

Max Brinckmann
2 min readAug 16, 2016

We’ve all seen the incredible figures. Over 7 million app downloads in the first week. Now way above 30 million. Raising Nintendo’s value to more than 40 billion dollars. But why did that happen?

Augmented Reality is nothing new, though it was one of the main things that caught the attention of many people, stating that the technology will receive great upwind because of Pokémon GO.

It’s also perfectly timed with the original Pokémon generation (the first Game Boy games were released in 1996 and the series started in 1997) now being in the right age to use an augmented reality smartphone game and to be thrown back into nostalgia.

Moving + Entertainment = Movetainment

I worked on a similar app concept in 2015, called Runtainment. The idea was to get people outside and let them discover the joy in running again. The app would then calculate a generative route around the player, matching his desired run duration. The cool thing is that the audible story, e.g. bounty hunting, included actual points of interest around you, pulled out of an open source API.

This would have been a good chance to contrast with apps like Zombies, Run! and their kind.

Runtainment Trailer, 2014

So, why did it not work?

We ended up discontinuing the production. And I am fairly sure that this was the right decision. This app wouldn’t have become as successful and I think I know why.

If the Pokémon GO mechanic was transferred to a blank and unpopular story, of course not as many people would have downloaded it. It’s quite obvious that this has been a perfectly executed marketing strategy, considering the right time to release the Pokémon app with a mechanic like this for a certain target group.

Today I saw a video on YouTube, showing a concept for Harry Potter GO. It uses the same mechanics as Pokémon GO, only themed with another incredibly popular story that affects the same target group. And I’m sure this app would be similarly successful if it was released right now. Of course not as much, because it does not have the same surprise factor. But it’s certainly enough to have a good emotional trigger and an average technology to get it going. That’s why innovation was not the main factor for the success of Pokémon GO. It’s watching yourself play years ago through your smartphone camera.

Harry Potter GO concept



Max Brinckmann

I am a Senior User Researcher and Digital Designer at Merck KGaA Germany. I enjoy writing about psychology and behavioural patterns within digital platforms.