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What Can Event Pros Learn from the Success of Pokemon GO?



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Jul 13, 2016
Pokemon Go and Events

As you may or may not be aware, a little something called Pokemon GO appears to have taken over the world/everyone’s Smartphone over the course of the last week or so. Suddenly people you’d have never imagined would be into literally chasing around fictitious cartoon characters are obsessed.

There’ve been reports of injuries from distracted players too busy collecting Pokeballs to notice they’re about to run into stationary objects; Would-be robbers luring players on the hunt for rare Ivysaur’s into an unsuspecting trap; 7.5 million downloads from Google Play and the Apple Store and $1.6 million in estimated revenue per day on iOS alone. To which event professionals (and plenty of others!) say, “huh?!”

When you’ve been incorporating cool tech like AR and highly-engaging gamification strategies into events for years, you can be forgiven for wondering aloud what’s so different about this app that it’s inspiring a notoriously sedentary and hard-to-impress culture to action.

Although some of Nintendo’s success with Pokemon GO is akin to catching lightning in a bottle, there are several recognizable (and re-creatable!) factors that event pros could learn from and adapt to boost buzz and engagement rates at their shows.


One particularly great design feature of Pokemon GO is a layered rewards system that offers several different means of progression at varying speeds. There’s the traditional “level-based” incentive but as they move through each level, players also have the opportunity to progress in the game by collecting items to power up and evolve their Pokemon and their own character. This way, there are several “tracks” by which you can experience and succeed at the game aside from just plowing through each level to finally reach a payoff at the end.

How does this apply to events? A hallmark of the modern attendee is a new expectation of options. They want a say in how they will experience your event. Organizers can help to create this sense of control in several ways, including functionality built-in to the event app that allows attendees to build a personal schedule, make and store info about new contacts, share socially and take personal notes.

Additionally, you can help create a sense of agency for attendees via meeting design that takes into account the varied ways people may want to interact throughout your event. Design the overall flow to include places to chat, places to check and charge devices, and intentionally quiet spaces where people can unwind and unplug, maybe literally.

Hybrid events are another way to let users have a greater sense of control over their experience by opting to attend sessions in person or from an off-site location where they’ll be able to live stream the presentation and participate virtually.


One area where Pokemon GO really pivots from other highly successful mobile games is its reliance on real-world interactions to fuel new downloads. In other words, you don’t have to sell out your Facebook friends to move up or keep playing the game. Instead Pokemon GO counts on the fact that smartphone users are going to see other smartphone users out physically playing the game or posting screenshots of their latest catch in their feeds and become curious enough to check it out.

The game also creates obvious potential for players to interact randomly with other players as they’re out and about, even encouraging this kind of spontaneous comradery with in-game purchases that benefit not just players who purchase them, but everyone playing the game in their immediate vicinity.

At an event where attendees very presence is an indication of a greater-than-average inclination toward networking and forging new relationships, event pros can employ several strategies to build-in this same kind of social engagement structure. Including matchmaking or networking functionality in your event app is a great place to start. Creating easily accessible, shareable content is another. Games that encourage networking or feature leaderboards are also great ways to connect people who might not otherwise meet at your event.


Finally, Nintendo and Niantic have done an incredible job of designing Pokemon GO for the long haul. It’s not just that it’s a fun, addictive game that keeps people coming back for more, it’s that each time you play, the game is a little bit different. The actual angle and placement of the game elements are different but, beyond that, by building a real-world experience into gameplay, users can expect that playing at different times of the day and days of the week will mix things up. The weather may be different. You’ll meet new and different people. Pokemon will show up at new locations, etc.

The obvious lesson for event organizers is to make sure you’re adding new and exciting elements to your show, year after year. Once you’ve found what seems to be a winning formula, it can be all too easy to just keep on keeping on with what’s worked before, but if you really want to keep attendees coming back, resist the urge to rest on your laurels!

Are there any other parallels you can see between the success of Pokemon GO and events? Leave them in the comments!

…and if you’ve got any hot tips on where to find a Pinsir, leave those too.

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