How Pokemon GO Creates Systemic Crowds

The first weekend Pokemon Go was released, I headed downtown to play and find some hot spots. I was amazed to meet over 40 people (pictured) at the same location, all playing Pokemon Go. None of the people in this photo know one another, but we were all there because of the lures attracting lots of pokemon.

If you’ve played the game you know that finding these crowds are smile-inducing surprises. It’s fun to suddenly be among a crowd of strangers who are all doing the same activity you are doing. You inevitably end up talking, swapping tips, and making friends. When the lures are up everyone disperses. It is a truly unusual and unique gaming experience.

Whenever there is technological advancement, new gameplay systems appear that create precedents for future games. When The Legend Of Zelda shipped as the first Nintendo cartridge with a battery pack, it created new standards around the idea of Save Files. When Zynga’s FarmVille took off in 2009, social networks were flooded with requests for hammers and nails to build their items, a design now standardized across hundreds of games.

Pokemon Go is no different. As the most successful GPS-enabled game ever made, new system designs are driving new types of behavior that no other game has been capable of.

One of the most interesting of these systems is the game’s ability to create systemic crowds. These come from a game design that encourages two or more people appearing at a physical location at the same time.

So how do these systemic crowds work? What is driving this behavior? And how could the same system be applied to other games in the future?