Why Bad UX Isn’t Stopping Pokemon Go

I love Pokémon Go, but it suffers from quite a few UX problems. There are a few elements of the game like the nearby screen, Stardust and even your list of captured Pokémon that get little in game explanation. It’s a bad experience for new players trying to learn how to play the game.  And yet, Pokémon Go is dominating app charts for iOS and Android. Let’s take a look at a few of the UX issues and explore why they haven’t hindered Pokémon Go’s popularity.

More Means More, Except When Less Means More

2016-07-12 10.52.15One of the first points of confusion for new Pokémon Go players is the “Nearby” section. When you are in the world map a player can tap on a button located at the lower right of the screen. When the button is tapped a list of nearby Pokémon is displayed. Under each Pokémon is a set of tracks with one, two or three prints.

Most players believe that more tracks means you are closer to the Pokémon. It makes sense to our inner hunter, the more tracks we see the more game in the area. Turns out the opposite is true in the world of Pokémon! When you see one track you are actually closer to the Pokémon you are trying to capture. The confusion most players suffer is easy to understand. We take a simple concept and turn it on its head. An easy fix to this UX problem would be to change the paw print to a shoe or boot. Use an icon that conveys the players distance to the Pokémon relative to the player not the Pokémon. It needs to be communicated to the player that they need to take more steps to reach the Pokémon.

What is Stardust?

StardustI’ve been a Pokémon player since Gen One. My starter was a Charmander on Pokemon Red, thanks for asking! I understand what they are doing with candies, but Stardust had me a bit confused. I don’t remember Stardust at all in the games. I did some research and discovered that the item has been in games before, but not as something that affects your Pokémon. Stardust and Candies are an option to train your Pokémon, rather than the traditional battles. Not too much of a learning curve, but it’s a new element that is critical to making your Pokémon stronger.

My biggest UX issue with Stardust is that your Stardust count is not presented front and center. If Stardust is as important as XP it shouldn’t be hidden underneath three individual taps. You have to open the menu from the PokéBall, tap the Pokémon option, then select a Pokémon. Only then do you see your current Stardust count… after how much the Pokémon weighs… :-/

Any stat or item count that is crucial needs to be front and center. Your users won’t know that it’s just as important until they need to use it, then it’s too late. Hopefully this stat will get added to the player profile screen.

Typical Mobile UX Problems – Discovery

2016-07-12 10.13.57Did you know that you can spin the your Pokémon around?

Did you know that if you tap on a Pokémon you can see an animation and hear their cry?

Letting users know what they can and cannot interact with is still a challenge. This isn’t just a Pokémon Go problem, it’s a touch screen problem, so I don’t hold it against the game. The downside to having hard to discover features is not only a smell of bad UX but also translates to wasted development time. Every Pokémon has an animation for the screen. That’s time invested on a feature that most users will never use. This might be seen as a polished product in some development shops, but realistically it’s wasted time and effort.  If you’ve got something fun in your mobile app, make sure the users know of it. If users don’t need it or won’t use a feature don’t spend time making it.

Fun fact: Sandshrew has the coolest animation.



So What, It’s Number One In The App Store

Pokémon is a 20 year old brand. As I mentioned, I played Gen One… and two, and yellow, Snap, Tournament. Get the picture? Pokémon Go doesn’t need to win new players, it needs to win previous players to a new platform. That means that there is no need to hand hold most of the audience for 90% of the game. They are in a position where they can make some poor UX decisions because there is enough background knowledge of the product. Players already know about the Pokedex, Gyms, Types, Battles, Candies… the list can go on. Compare this game to Niantic’s first game, Ingress. Most users gave up playing because of the learning curve. Pokémon Go and Ingress have so much in common, but Pokémon Go has a 20 year head start on defining the rules, explaining jargon and setting the goals of the game.

Keep in mind that Pokémon Go is an a unique position and can play fast and loose with some UX elements. Your app more than likely doesn’t have the same following, so create good user experiences for everyone.

What UX Decisions Do You Like?

I love how the type is the background for each Pokémon, but again, new players might not understand what types are.

The grass flaring up is a great way to indicate what direction players need to go.

Disabling distance for Egg Incubation while driving… No, I don’t play Pokémon Go and drive… And I gotta go… Thanks for reading!!