Why do people play location-based augmented reality games: A study on Pokémon GO

Location-based augmented reality (AR) games are pervasive games that tie into the everyday life of the players and transform their mundane surroundings into a part of the game world [6]. After being published in July 2016, Pokémon GO (PGO) [8] became the first location-based AR game to garner mainstream popularity and one of the most successful mobile games in general. The game peaked at 28.5 million daily unique players in the United States alone a week after its launch [3], it had reached over 750 million downloads worldwide within its first year [7], and had made $1.8 billion in revenue with in-app purchases in two years [9]. Previously, location-based augmented reality games had mostly been research prototypes or games without significant commercial success [13], but after the success of PGO, many location-based AR games are now entering the market. In this article, we will use PGO as a case to study why people play location-based AR games. 

In PGO, players act as Pokémon trainers and walk in the real world, using their mobile app to navigate in the game world while trying to find, catch, hatch, train, evolve, and fight Pokémon creatures. The player’s location is tracked by GPS, while the game shows an overlay map of the game world, showing the nearby Pokémon and other interest points on it. The player can tap any nearby Pokémon to change into the catch mode, where the player can throw Poké Balls at them. A successful catch will add the creature into the player’s Pokémon collection, Pokédex, and the aim is to collect all the different creatures, which has been one of the main reasons to continue playing the game [14]. PGO is based on the popular and already over two decades old Pokémon franchise, which has been one of the key reasons to play PGO according to previous studies [14]; [17].

PGO ties into many research interests from the last decade. It is a location-based pervasive game [6]; [15] that utilizes context-information [11] and AR [2]; [5]. It ties into a transmedia storyworld [4] while including elements from exergames [16], treasure hunts [6], geocaching [10], and free-to-play games [1]; [12]

We look at why people play location-based AR games through PGO. With its exceptional success in this area, it is an important artifact to research from the cultural, academic, and game design perspectives. To study why PGO reached such popularity, we investigate 1) why players have started to play PGO, 2) why they continue playing it, and if so, 3) why they have stopped playing it. We employ survey data gathered from PGO players (N=2612) and a mixed-method design containing both qualitative and quantitative analyses. The contributions of this paper are three-fold: 1) we provide new information on this culturally important phenomenon, 2) the findings can be used in follow-up quantitative studies by operationalizing our findings into variables, and 3) the findings can be used when designing location-based AR game experiences.

Why do people play location-based augmented reality games: A study on Pokémon GO

Kati Alha
Elina Koskinen
Janne Paavilainen
Juho Hamari

Citation: Alha, K., Koskinen, E., Paavilainen, J., & Hamari, J. (2019). Why do people play location-based augmented reality games: A study on Pokémon GO. Computers in Human Behavior, 93, 114-122.
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2018.12.008

Please see the paper for full details: 


Pokémon GO brought the location-based augmented reality games into the mainstream. To understand why people play these games, we created an online survey (n=2612) with open questions about the reasons to start, continue, and quit playing Pokémon GO, and composed categories of the answers through a thematic analysis. Earlier experiences especially with the same franchise, social influence, and popularity were the most common reasons to adopt the game, while progressing in the game was the most frequently reported reason to continue playing. The player’s personal situation outside the game and playability problems were the most significant reasons to quit the game. In addition to shedding more light on the Pokémon GO phenomenon, the findings are useful for both further studying and designing location-based augmented reality game experiences.


[1]Alha, K., Koskinen, E., Paavilainen, J., Hamari, J., & Kinnunen, J. (2014). Free-to-play games: Professionals’ perspectives. Proceedings of DiGRA Nordic 2014.
[2]Bichard, J-P., & Waern, A. (2008). Pervasive play, immersion and story: Designing interference. Proceedings of the 3rd international conference on Digital Interactive Media in Entertainment and Arts. 10-17.
[3]ComScore. (2017). Cross-platform future in focus 2017 U.S. White paper.
[4]Dena, C. (2009). Transmedia practice: Theorizing the practice of expressing a fictional world across distinct media and environments. Doctoral Dissertation. University of Sydney, Australia.
[5]Lindt, I., Ohlenburg, J., Pankoke-Babatz, U., & Ghellal, S. (2007). A report on the crossmedia game epidemic menace. Computers in Entertainment, 5(1).
[6]Montola, M., Stenros, J., & Waern, A. (2009). Pervasive games: Theory and design. Morgan Kaufman, Amsterdam.
[7]Minotti, M. (2017). Pokémon Go passes $1.2 billion in revenue and 752 million downloads. In VentureBeat. Retrieved March 8, 2018 from https://venturebeat.com/2017/06/30/pokemon-go-passes-1-2-billion-in-revenue-and-752- million-downloads/
[8]Niantic. (2016). Pokémon GO.
[9]Nelson, R. (2018). Pokémon GO revenue hits $1.8 billion on its two year launch anniversary. In Sensor Tower. Retrieved August 29, 2018 from https://sensortower.com/blog/pokemon- go-revenue-year-two
[10]O’Hara, K. (2008). Understanding Geocaching practices and motivations. Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ́08), 1177-1186.
[11]Paavilainen, J. Korhonen, H., Saarenpää, H., & Holopainen, J. (2009). Player perception of context information utilization in pervasive mobile games. Proceedings of the 2009 DiGRA Conference, 1-8.
[12]Paavilainen, J. Hamari, J., Stenros, J., & Kinnunen, J. (2013). Social network games: Players’ perspective. Simulation & Gaming, 44(6), 794–820.
[13]Paavilainen, J., Korhonen, H., Alha, K., Stenros, J., Koskinen, E., & Mäyrä, F. (2017). The Pokémon GO experience: A location-based augmented reality mobile game goes mainstream. Proceedings of the 2017 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. New York: ACM, 2493-2498.
[14]Rasche, P., Schlomann, A., & Mertens, A. (2017). Who is still playing Pokémon Go? A web-based survey. JMIR Serious Games. 5(2).
[15]Sotamaa, O. (2002). All the world’s a Botfighter stage: Notes on location-based multi-user gaming. Proceedings of Computer Games and Digital Cultures Conference. Tampere University Press, Tampere, Finland.
[16]Southerton, C. (2014). ‘Zombies, Run!’: Rethinking immersion in light of nontraditional gaming contexts. In D. Polson, A-M. Cooke, J.T. Velikovsky, J.T., A. Brackin (eds.) Transmedia Practice: A Collective Approach. Inter-Disciplinary Press, United Kingdom.
[17]Zsila, Á., Orosz, G., Bőthe, B., Tóth-Királyab, I., Király, O., Griffiths, M., & Demetrovics, Z. (2017). An empirical study on the motivations underlying augmented reality games: The case of Pokémon Go during and after Pokémon fever. Personality and Individual Differences.

No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.