Pokémon GO Plus: The challenge of casual pervasive gaming?

Pokémon GO Plus package contents.
Pokémon GO Plus package contents.

Our research projects have explored the directions of pervasive gaming and more general ludification trends in culture and society. One of the success stories of last year was Pokémon GO, the location-based mobile game by Niantic (a Google spin-off) and Pokémon Company. When winter came, the player numbers dropped: at least in Finnish winter is became practically impossible to play a smartphone outdoors game in below-freezing temperatures. Considering that, I have been interested in trying the Pokémon GO Plus accessory – it is a small bluetooth device with one button that you can wear, so that constant handling of smartphone is no longer needed.

Pokémon GO Plus notifications via iPhone in Pebble Time 2 smartwatch.
Pokémon GO Plus notifications via iPhone in Pebble Time 2 smartwatch.

Based on a couple of hours quick testing, this kind of add-on certainly has certain potential. It reduces (an already rather simple) game into its most basic elements: the buzz and colourful led signals when there is a familiar (green) or new (yellow) Pokémon creature nearby, ready for catching. Pressing the button will automatically try to capture the virtual critter: easy ones usually register as “captured” in a few seconds (rainbow-style multi-coloured led signal), more challenging ones might “flee” (red light). When one arrives next to a Pokéstop, there will be a blue light & buzz signal, and with a press of button one can quickly interact with the stop, and get all available items registered into ones inventory. This is actually much more convenient than the usual routine of clicking and swiping at stops, Pokémons and balls. When the “Plus” is active, the game app itself also keeps running in the background, registering walking distances also when the phone is locked. This is how the game should function in the first place, of course. It seems that it is also much easier to capture Pokémons with the “Plus” than without it (how fair this is to other gamers, is a subject of discussion, too).

Pokémon GO Plus notifications on iPhone 6 Plus screen.
Pokémon GO Plus notifications on iPhone 6 Plus screen.

The larger question that remains is, what “casual pervasive gaming” will become, in the long run. If this kind of devices show the direction, it might be that a casual, always-on game will be more like a “zero player game”: an automated simulated of gaming, where game server and game client keep on making steady progress in the game, while the human player is free to concentrate on other things. Maybe it is enough just to check the game progress at the end of the day, getting some kind of summary of what the automated, “surrogate player” had experienced, during the day?

Playing Pokémon GO with the “Plus” add-on is not quite there, though. There were moments today when the device was buzzing every few second, asking for its button to be pressed. I quickly collected a nice selection of random, low level Pokémon, but I also ran out of Poke Balls in a minute. Maybe the device is made for “Pokémon GO whales”: those players who use real money to buy an endless suppy of poke-balls, and who are happy to have this semi-automatic collecting practice going on, whole day, in order to grind their way towards higher levels?

The strategic element of choice is mostly missing while using the “Plus”. I have no specific knowledge which Pokémon I am trying to capture, and as the game is configured to use only the basic sort of Poke Ball automatically, any “Great”, or “Ultra” balls, for example, are not used, which means that any more challenging, high-level Pokémon will most likely be missed and flee. At the same time, the occasionall buzz of the device taps evokes the “play frame” of Pokémon GO – which relates to the “playful mindset” that we also have been researching – so it is easier to keep on having a contact with a pervasive gaming reality, while mostly concentrating on mundane, everyday things, like doing grocery shopping. Some of us are better at multitasking, but experiments like Pokémon GO Plus provide us with a better understanding on how to scale both the game-related information, as well as the in-game tasks and functionalities, so that they do not seriously interfere with the other daily activities, but rather support them in the manner we see preferable. At least for me, wearing the “Plus” made those winter walking trips a bit more interesting and motivating again today.

Note on Pokémon Go: fantasy of collecting and exploring “urban nature”

Pokémon Go (logo).
Pokémon Go (the game logo).

For those of us who started doing r&d on location-based mobile games decade or two ago, the exploding popularity of Pokémon Go has been exciting, but also perhaps a bit bewildering to follow. There have been many games that have exploited the collaborative, competitive, user-created or spatially based functionalities of augmented reality play in more innovative manner than Pokémon Go, but none of them have managed to grow their player base as fast and into the scale this Niantic’s game has done. Our own research in University of Tampere included work with The Songs of North prototype which our team designed and implemented in the Mogame research project in 2003-2004. Before that, there had been e.g. Botfighters (2001) by the Swedish company It’s Alive, which was neither not yet based on GPS technology, but rather on the use of cell triangulation and SMS messages. It has been interesting to follow how the motif of “city shamans”, teamed up into competing factions and using might and magic to struggle for control of urban areas has developed, varied and re-emerged, starting from our The Songs of North (2003), followed by the Shadow Cities (2010), and then by Ingress (2013), which adopted many of the basic key elements from Shadow Cities. Pokémon Go, in turn, is based on Ingress on its location-based game mechanics.

Some of the comments of pioneering location-based or augmented reality game developers I have read have sounded even a bit irritated that a rather simple and clearly derivative game makes such a breakthrough, supposedly solely on the basis of association with a popular IP (intellectual property). What we witness here is related to the nature of innovation processes, though. Again and again, it is necessarily not the first implementations that become the great success stories; rather, it is the “second penguin” jumping in later, who can learn from the experiences from the pioneers, and implement something that is perhaps not as ambitious, but that is designed and suitable for large-scale, mainstream adoption. The detailed analyses of Pokémon Go will no doubt start appearing soon in game studies conferences and journals, and it is interesting to see how the key elements of its popularity will be described and interpreted. Simplicity is no doubt one such element, but there is more.

The holding power of Pokémon Go is perhaps relatively easy to explain in terms of certain key player motivation theories, plus counting in certain love or nostalgia with the revived transmedial Pokémon phenomena itself – plus certainly some novelty effect from augmented reality, location-based mobile game play, which is still new experience for many people. In player motivations, there are classic achievement motivations, pleasures of accumulating advancement, repetition and variably rewarded effort (a well-known addictive mechanic), that Pokémon games tap into; there is a long series of these games, starting from the 1996 releases of Red and Green games for Game Boy in Japan, continuing through what is now considered seven generations of video games, and also a popular trading card game, plus manga, anime, films, and other related Pokémon branded products. It is often quoted how Satoshi Tajiri, the producer and main creator of the original concept, based Pokémon on his childhood hobby of insect collecting. What is perhaps not so often noted is that Satoshi has also spoken about how exploration into urban wastelands was one of the key inspirations for Pokémon games, and how urban developments according to him had driven away all these fascinating life-forms – Pokémon games were thus designed from the start to mimic exploration into “urban nature” and stimulate the joy of discovery of both common and rare creatures of all kinds, and of learning about their individual characteristics and even potentials for (insect-like) metamorphosis.

Even if the range of Pokémon creatures is large and understanding their characteristics provides plenty of room for learning and improvement, the basic game in Pokémon Go game is so simple that it can be immediately comprehended: move around, catch Pokémon, collect them, power them up, evolve them into new species, and join teams for tournament style battles for the domination of certain key spots (marked as “Gyms” in the game). Thus, Pokémon Go shows key virtues of classic “casual” games: easy to learn, difficult to complete or totally master, leading to near-infinite replay value, or even addictive potential. What remains to be seen, however, is how many of the millions of players will continue to play the game when the novelty effect wears off. The location-based games in the past have remained in the margins, and one of the key reasons is that the extra effort of going out (sometimes also when it is raining, dark, or the surroundings are otherwise not so inviting or even safe) has meant that only the most dedicated parts of “core gamers” audiences have stuck with these games in the past.

In addition to analysing what features Pokémon Go has as a game, it is also interesting to see what features it does not have. Joining teams (blue, red, or yellow) is part of the game, but coordinating or communicating with team members is not part of the game. This is something that happens naturally between people who play in same locations and meet each other, when there is a critical mass of them, and social media also plays an important role for assisting players in this kind of contemporary “pervasive game”. Thus, playing alone in isolated locations, or disconnected from popular media services would inevitably have an effect on the Pokémon Go player experiences. This is a game that is designed for populated, urban areas and there is also heavy reliance on the location data and sites recorded for the earlier Niantic game, Ingress.

The “perfect storm” of Pokémon Go is, in my quick analysis so far thus mainly a combination of two things: the successful simplification of earlier, tested location-based game design features so that they are clear and straightforward enough for mainstream adoption, and secondly, of the critical mass provided by fans of the second-best selling digital game franchise in the world (only Mario games have sold more). There is also the additional boost from its associated, widely familiar “transmedial storyworld” that millions of people who have not played Pokémon video games will also recognize. The threshold for stepping into the shoes of a Pokémon hunter and trainer is low, and pleasures of real-world exploration, rare creature hunting, collecting, points and levels accumulation, competition and collaboration mean that Pokémon Go provides highly accessible and enjoyable combination of real world and gaming fantasy.

Academic Mindtrek 2016 CFP

[Please spread the word, Mindtrek includes also an established game research track]

Call for Papers, Posters, Demonstrations and Workshops
17th to 19th October 2016
Tampere, Finland

Full papers, posters, demonstrations and workshops due on:
—— DEADLINE 27th June, 2016 ——

In cooperation with ACM, ACM SIGMM, and ACM SIGCHI.
Contributions will be published in the ACM digital library.


We are pleased to invite you to the Academic Mindtrek conference, 17th to 19th October 2016. Academic Mindtrek is a meeting place where researchers, experts and thinkers present results from their latest work regarding the development of novel technology, media and digital culture for the society of tomorrow.

Academic Mindtrek is part of the renowned Mindtrek business conference. Mindtrek brings together people not only from various fields and domains but also from different sectors such as companies, academia and various other institutions. This is the perfect opportunity for pushing research results in the practice and industry, as well as getting out-the-box research ideas based on the interaction with industry and practitioners. Mindtrek events are accessible for the Academic Mindtrek attendees, and vice versa.

The academic conference features the following major themes:

– Human-Computer Interaction (HCI)
– Interaction design and user experience
– Games and gamification
– Virtual, augmented and mixed reality
– Media education
– Collaboration and multimedia technologies in education
– Crowdsourcing and citizen participation
– Open data and data science
– New forms of journalism and media
– Theatre, performance and media
– Enhancing work in socio-technological environments

We are especially enthusiastic about applied research and papers related to practical work.


Human Computer Interaction (HCI) track addresses the design, development and implementation of user interfaces and the design of human and technology interaction. The track focuses on design of computer systems for human users, human requirements, usability, ergonomics, privacy aspects, trustworthiness, interaction theories, and sociological and psychological factors. The track brings together people from diverse areas that provide a multidisciplinary forum for academics, designers and practitioners to discuss the challenges and processes of contemporary topics in Human-Computer Interaction. The themes include, but are not limited to, the following subject areas:

• Interaction: e.g. interaction theories and models, new interaction techniques, multimodal interaction, multi-device interaction, social interactions mediated by technology.

• Interfaces: e.g. adaptive and personalized interfaces, usability evaluations, autonomous and proactive interfaces and interfaces as artefacts
• Technology: e.g. architectures for HCI, Cloud computing & Mobile HCI, new technology enablers like various sensors and actuators, toolkits and platforms for new interactive systems.
• Evaluation: e.g. evaluation studies of interactive systems, evaluation methods and techniques and user trials and experiments of interactive technology.
• User insight: e.g. methods for user research, ethnography, and understanding the users and contexts of use.

This track focuses on the practice of designing interactive digital products and services and the user experiences and interactions therein. As people’s quality standards tend to constantly increase, providing a delightful user experience and fluent interaction, the most relevant features have become central goals in the development of digital products and services. The areas of interest include, but are not limited to, the following areas:

• Theories, conceptualizations and reflections on user experience, consumer experience, product experience, interaction design, service design and their relations to other design disciplines.
• Understanding various aspects of user experience: e.g. aesthetics, trust and privacy, product attachment, playfulness, engagement, social elements
• Novel design approaches: e.g. experience-driven design, critical design, design visions
• Techniques, methods, tools and patterns for interaction design and service design
• Measuring and assessing user experience, user studies and user experience evaluations
• Creativity and innovation in design of interactive systems

The culture, development and business of games has become increasingly varied. The current trends range from virtual reality and wearable gaming to freemium business models and serious games. Games research is a multidisciplinary field featuring diverse approaches to understand the phenomenon of games and play.

Academic MindTrek has an inclusive approach in the Games track focusing on novel, innovative and even unorthodox games research from theoretical works, empirical case studies to constructive projects. The Games track themes include, but are not limited to, the following subject areas:

• Design (interaction, mechanics, interfaces…)
• Evaluation (game experience, playability, usability…)
• Development (tools, engines, AI, audiovisual…)
• Business (digital distribution, crowdfunding, revenue models, virtual goods…)
• Platforms (online, social, mobile, desktop…)
• Technology (virtual, augmented and altered reality…)
• Serious games (education, health, persuasive, simulations…)
• Gamification (motivation, effects, case studies…)
• eSports (culture, streaming, fandom…)
• Hybrid games (digital-physical, board games, toys…)
• Online gambling (lottery, casino, betting…)
• Players (demographics, inclusivity, accessibility…)
• Indie (innovation, modding, transgressive…)

Mixed reality refers to merging of real and digital realms in order to produce new environments where physical and digital objects co-exist and interact in real time. We consider this broadly, covering both purely virtual realities, as well as augmented reality, where the perception of the real-world is enhanced with digital content. With new technologies for capturing, modelling, simulating and tracking the reality and for producing realistic hybrids of the real and digital, this field provides immense opportunities for novel applications in all areas of life. The main focus on this track is on the interactions between technology and its users rather than the technological enablers. Therefore, we welcome submissions related to, e.g.:

• Prototypes of applications or devices for virtual or augmented reality
• Studies of user perceptions, user experience and acceptance of new mixed reality technology
• Methods and processes for producing mixed reality environments
• Augmenting human perception and activity with mixed reality technology
• User interface solutions for mixed reality interactions

Media and IT play an increasingly central, diverse and complex role in contemporary life from early age to adulthood. The essential focus of media education is on developing media literacy linked to information and communication technology in learning, media production and critical thinking in media saturated societies. This field is of keen relevance for the development of education curricula across all levels, and especially for children and young people today. The track encourages papers on, for example, conceptual developments, practical skills that are necessary for competence in the area, learning environments and, methodological discussions.

Education is increasingly using tools and solutions to support learning and collaboration on mobile, online and distance platforms and with related applications. Furthermore, various types of multimedia technologies and solutions can be used in educational context.

We welcome submissions on the collaboration and multimedia technologies, platforms, solutions, and trials in mobile, online, and distance learning contexts as well as in developing and rural regions. Theoretical, methodological and empirical submissions are welcome on design, development, evaluation, and actual use of tools, solutions, and multimedia technologies and created data from lab to real-life context. The submissions can address contexts such as daycare, schools and higher education, as well as in professional development in continuing education, MOOCs, or in informal learning contexts. Learners’ or educators’ viewpoint, or the educational aspects and goals can also be covered in the submissions, for example.

Crowdsourcing and citizen participation have become part of everyday activities in media landscape. Crowds or citizens, can solve problems, create, contribute, share, and analyze multimedia content and data, participate and influence decision making. Crowds contributing to open data can enable creating innovative applications, new multimedia forms, novel business models and platforms by utilizing the emerging opportunities. This track welcomes submissions on using crowdsourcing and citizen participation in multimedia and open data landscape. Submissions can include design, development, evaluation and use of solutions and platforms and processes for supporting crowdsourcing and citizen participation. Topics related to the cross-section of multimedia or open data, and crowdsourcing or citizen participation, such as gamification, motivation, incentives, privacy, as well as design and evaluation by using crowdsourcing and citizen participation are welcome to this track.

Accessing, creating, analysing and utilizing good-quality data plays a central role in the development of the digital economy. The exponential accumulation of data, both sensor-based and user-created, opens new avenues for applications in, for example, various industry sectors, science, management, E-Government and E-Learning, artificial intelligence, predictive analytics, and knowledge work. But what data is interesting and where does it come from? How to access it, analyse it, make sense of it, or to build applications or ecosystems based on it? We are looking for submissions that address the challenges and opportunities related to Open data, Data science and Big Data. The submissions can, e.g., introduce computational methods for analysing, visualizing or acquiring various types of data, envision opportunities for or present developed applications that utilize open data, describe and analyse new (open) data sets, or present procedures for extracting insight from various data. In addition to the usual scientific peer review criteria, the evaluation of submissions about new data sets includes novelty, design and availability. This track is organized in association with the W3C Finnish office.

The hottest topic in journalism and publishing industry in recent years has been the “mobile first” approach. This means that particularly in the news media focus has shift more and more from print or desktop-oriented publishing to mobile-first strategies. Smartphones and tablets enhanced with the publications presence in social media are now at the core as the news media tries to meet its audience and customers at first hand. Engaging the audience with the help of these new tools is increasingly important also for non-news media, such as traditional magazines.

This track focuses on new and emerging forms of creating, distributing and presenting journalism in this new era. We have an emphasis on visual forms of storytelling and engaging audiences. This doesn’t mean other forms or genres of journalism and media are excluded.

We welcome submissions related to, e.g. use of online video, multimedia and data visualization projects in journalism, news mobile services, innovative ways of utilizing time lapse, hyper lapse, web videos, metadata, interactivity and news games. We are particularly interested in papers discussing the use and experiences of augmented, mixed and virtual reality and omni-directional video in journalism and immersive storytelling.

Discussions on the mediatization of performance and the use of theories and methods of theatre
and performance studies in media research enable new analytic paths to questions of cultural activity and representation. Human actions in the media, and the automated, semi-automated or computer-controlled processes used in creative practices generate unforeseen modes of performativity. Consequently, the fields of art and media now promote a culture of participation that calls for critical notions of transformative identity, new forms of co-creation and open performative environments, as represented by the many platforms of social media and emerging forms of non-linear/non- human game play. As components of user-centered ecologies and economies, these mostly digital phenomena suggest a cultural milieu where communicative processes, environments of operation, and shared or individual experiences are constantly performed and re-performed (created) by their users. The theater, performance and media track welcomes papers that discuss (but are not necessarily limited to) the following topics:

• The use of media in performance
• Digital / non-digital / hybrid performance
• Performances in specific media environments
• The performative aspects of media
• Performances in video games and other virtual environments
• The use of Motion Capture and other real time technologies in performance
• Live streaming of theatre performances
• Non-human performativity

The aim of the track is to present novel approaches on research of socio-digital working environments. The underlying theme is information ergonomics, yet it covers many disciplines and perspectives. The track welcomes methodological, theoretical and empirical papers on contemporary work settings.

Academic Mindtrek is organized in cooperation with ACM SIGMM, and ACM SIGCHI. The conference proceedings will be published in the ACM Digital Library, which includes full papers, posters, workshop proposals and demonstration proposals. All papers should follow the style guidelines of the conference. In the Finnish classification of publication forums, Academic Mindtrek proceedings are classified as Jufo 1.

There will also be rewards for the best papers from the academic conference.

All submissions will be peer-reviewed double blinded, therefore please remove any information that could give an indication of the authorship. The papers should contain 6-10 pages, including the list of references.

Workshop proposals should be between 2-4 pages long. We welcome you to suggest workshops as part of the Academic Mindtrek. Workshop proposals should include the organizing committee, a description of the theme and goals of the workshop, a short CV of organizers, duration, and the schedule. Workshop organizers can create their own proceedings of the accepted position papers.

Depending on the attracted number of papers for each workshop, we provide space for either half-day or full-day workshops. Previous examples include e.g. a workshop on eLearning.

Interactive experience demonstrator proposals should be either short papers (2-4 pages long) or full papers (6-10 pages) and include: a) a description and motivation of the interactive experience demonstrator; b) general architecture of the interactive experience demonstrator; c) description of the main features of the demonstrator; d) a brief comparison with other existing related interactive experience demonstrators; e) audio-visual materials to illustrate the interactive experience demonstrator (a poster or a roll-up and other material on a laptop, for example); f) the type of license (if applicable), g) the Internet address of the interactive experience demonstrator (if applicable), and h) description of the scientific basis behind the interactive experience demonstrator (e.g., a regular paper presentation). It is strongly recommended that the authors make a video of the interactive experience demonstrator available on the Internet to accompany the article submission.

Posters proposals should be between 2-4 pages long and a poster should be presented during the conference. Attendees have the possibility to exhibit their posters on a A0 poster wall during the conference.


June 27th, 2016: Deadline for full papers, posters, demonstrations and workshops submissions.

August 19th, 2016: Notification of acceptance/rejection.

August 26th, 2016: Conference registration & copyright forms submission.

September 2nd 2016: Camera-ready papers submission.

October 17th to 19th, 2016: Academic Mindtrek Conference 2016


Academic Mindtrek Conference Chair
Markku Turunen, University of Tampere

Program Chair
Janne Paavilainen, University of Tampere

Silvia Rubio Hernandez, University of Tampere

Local Arrangement Chair and Conference Management
Olli Purma, COSS Association

Mindtrek Conference Chair
Timo Väliharju, COSS Association

Ossi Nykänen, Tampere University of Technology
Riku Roihankorpi, University of Tampere
Heli Väätäjä, Tampere University of Technology
Pekka Kallioniemi, SIGCHI Finland and University of Tampere
Thomas Olsson, SIGCHI Finland and Tampere University of Technology
Anssi Männistö, University of Tampere
Sirkku Kotilainen, University of Tampere
Mikko Kanninen, University of Tampere
Marleena Huuhka, University of Tampere

For more info, contact academic.info@mindtrek.org

Please use the templates provided on the style guidelines site. A template for .doc can be downloaded from https://www.acm.org/binaries/content/assets/publications/article-templates/pubform.docx and the LaTeX guidelines can be found in http://www.acm.org/sigs/publications/proceedings-templates .

Note that since the papers will be published by the ACM digital library all authors need to sign an ACM copyright form. For further guidelines please go to the ACM copyright form website (http://www.acm.org/publications/copyright_form). The copyright form would be sent through an automated system only for accepted papers.

You can start sending in your papers from April 15th onwards.

Email: academic.info@mindtrek.org
Facebook: www.facebook.com/groups/AcademicMindTrekConference/

COSS Association, City of Tampere, Tampere University of Technology (TUT), Tampere University (UTA), Tampere University of Applied Sciences (TAMK) and SIGCHI Finland.

Talk in London about Hybrid Playful Experiences

I will give a talk about “Hybrid Playful Experiences – Bridging the Physical-Digital Divide” this Wednesday in London, at the Innovations for the Benefit of Packaging and Commercial Printing event. This research is related both the the ‘Hybrid Media COST Action’ (FP1104) that we collaborate with several European partners, as well as research on playfulness and hybrid experiences, carried out in such research projects of ours as Hybridex, OASIS, Ludification of Culture and Society and others. The vacation period is July in Finland, but there is still some work to do – this will be my last work trip though, before the summer vacation starts. More information about the event: http://wcpcswansea.com/events/24-06-2015/Innovations-for-the-Benefit-of-Packaging-and-Commercial-Printing#agenda .

Finland in ‘Video Games Around the World’ book

Video Games Around the World (book).
Video Games Around the World

I got today in mail delivery my author’s copy of the very interesting book Video Games Around the World (The MIT Press). Edited by the encyclopaedicly knowledgeable and eminently productive Mark J.P. Wolf, it features 40 essays about games and game cultures in different parts of the world (all continents are discussed – even Antarctica gets a mention). With 656 pages this is a major, international collaborative event for global game studies, and I am happy to having been part of the project. Hopefully it will stimulate even more detailed, and also comparative, international studies in the future. I have also put online an early draft version (dated in April 2012) of my own chapter on Finnish games and game culture here: http://people.uta.fi/~frans.mayra/Mayra-Video_Games_in_Finland.pdf. More of the book from the MIT Press page at: http://mitpress.mit.edu/books/video-games-around-world.

And, if you are interested in games and game culture of Finland, I very much recommend the recent Finnish Video Games: A History and Catalog by Juho Kuorikoski, the most comprehensive work on the topic and probably the leading work on games of any single, small country from this perspective.