Designing your mobile game to flail: A look at the UX in PokémonGO
Years and years ago, there was a really great Super Bowl ad for a job site called monster.com. The premise was kids dreaming aloud of grown up jobs, but speaking of their dreams in ridiculous terms. The one that resonated most with me at the time was a dead serious tween: “I want to file all day.” Nobody wants to file all day.
And this goes for gamers, too. The equivalent of filing in video games is organizing and maintaining your inventory. Chasing through ridiculous amounts of menus just sucks the enjoyment right out of the game. No gamer is thinking to themselves: “I want to click through menus all day.”
But that is exactly what you do in PokémonGO. Click through unnecessary menus all darn day. It hurts gameplay, and I bet it’s even suppressing recurring player counts.
I’ve been playing PokémonGO on and off since it’s public release. There have been some changes to the “capture” side of the gameplay that are fantastic. Improvements to the “battle” side of the gameplay experience are still lacking, however.
Capture Gameplay Improvements:
- Sliding Capture Menus
- Appraisal function on the secondary character screen
- Buddy System
Sliding Capture Menus make catching Pokemon on the fly quick and easy. Slide right, pick and pitch a candy. Slide left, and grab the right kind of ball to capture your prey. From there, you can move on and go after the next Pokemon in the area before they all despawn.
The Appraisal function on the secondary character screen gives you more information when you’re clearing out your inventory. Trying to decide who to keep or toss? Use Appraisal to see the PokémonGO version of Individual Value, and you can more easily decide on the value of your critter, then get back to playing faster.
The Buddy System is more of a long-term, set-it-and-forget-it improvement. Instead of going crazy trying to capture more rare spawn critters, you can just walk and walk and play, gaining the candy as you go. Perfect for evolving and powering up your rare spawns.
Battle Gameplay Improvements:
- Team Training at team gyms
- Scaled Combat points
When PokémonGO debuted, it was nearly impossible to train your way into a gym on your team if you had only low-level Pokemon. You fought to join your gym in a one-on-one battle, which made gameplay frustrating and a waste of time. Adding Team Training ended the one-on-one battles: now you could use two or three mid-level Pokemon to take down a higher level Pokemon during training, and earn your way into a place at the gym.
Scaled Combat points killed the frustration of trying to battle an enemy gym populated by higher level players’ Pokemon. You’re level 12 and the gym is owned by level 30 enemies? Fat chance of winning any battles under that kind of handicap. Once this improvement came online, the enemy’s combat points were scaled back to give you a more balanced fight. There was no guarantee you’d win, but you had a better chance of ekeing out a win or two with a more even playing field.
But what happens after the battles or training sessions are over?
You have to click through menus all day.
I’ve put up with it for nearly a year now, but I’ve had enough. Let’s take a look at how you do essential quick-action functions in PokémonGO.
- Catching a Pokemon? Six distinct steps if you use the Sliding Capture Menus to toss a candy and pick a ball, (if you catch it on the first try).
- Appraising a Pokemon? Two mindless (if unavoidable) steps to see what the Pokemon is “made of” using the Appraisal function. Two more clicks to nuke it when you’re sure.
- Healing a Pokemon? You can do it in four steps. But you’re wasting your time and your equipment over time to do it that way.
How do you heal a Pokemon in PokemonGo?
Easily available Potions and Revive Gems mean you can heal on the go. You can do it in a minimal four steps, eyeballing who needs how much healing and making healing decisions on the fly. But if you’re in the middle of trying to take down a gym (or add your Pokemon to the gym), you can burn through and waste a lot of potions guessing what kind of healing you really need.
If you take eight or more steps, you can more precisely tune your healing inventory.
Imagine a Pokemon that needs 42 points of healing.
- If you the use 4-point eyeball method, you might throw three 20-point potions to heal it up. That might “waste” 18 points and an entire potion that you might need later.
- If you use the 8-step method (check the Pokemon’s HP, then figure out the heal), you might decide it makes more sense to throw a 50-point potion instead. You “waste” 8 points, but you only use 1 potion, and you’re back into the gameplay quickly.
Four steps, eight steps, one potion, three potions, what’s a few steps here and there?
Eight steps more than doubles your menu clicking. In the heat of the battle, that time can be crucial (annoyance factor aside). Multiply that by 20 or 30 Pokemon per gym experience, and you’re doubling your time all the time, every time.
I don’t want to be flipping back and forth among menus all day. I want to be able to look at a Pokemon’s character screen, figure out how much it needs to be healed, and throw the appropriate heals real-time … not six menu steps later. Add a Nurse Joy assistant right on the character screen, opposite the secondary screen menu, so you can heal them on the spot.
I bet most casual players find it annoying as well. They might not know why it’s annoying. And the menus might not be the annoying part. It might be the sensitivity of the touch screens. You’re trying to scroll among your injured Pokemon to figure out who to heal, but oops! You’re healing everyone instead of scrolling. And now you’re out of potions.
We can leave the “old” way of chasing through the menus to heal Pokemon if that’s what you like, but add the option to remove the annoyance factor. Let us heal Pokemon directly. This kind of gameplay was added to Niantic’s game Ingress several years ago (recharging during battle), and most players I’ve spoken to love to skip all the menu fiddling. Seconds count when you’re under the (virtual) gun in mobile augmented reality games.
Make PokémonGO easier to play. The current chasing menus function is not intuitive, and is not logical to someone using their fingers on the fly in a hurry in a battle to flip between menus all day. Fresh storylines and time-limited events are great to bring back lapsed players, but a greatly improved user experience can keep them beyond the event days.
Post script – I know there have been rumors of needing to feed Pokemon you’ve got defending gyms, similar to the “recharging” of portals in Ingress. That can be added as an option in the same menu position as the Nurse Joy button; just swap it out with a food icon when that option can be put to use.