Gamification Expert &

Behavioral Designer

27 Game Techniques Pokemon Go Used to Capture the World


This article is written by Contributing Writer Erik van Mechelen with support from Yu-kai Chou

27 Game Techniques Based on the 8 Core Drives of Octalysis

Even if you think you know why you’re playing Pokemon Go, I’ll bet you’ll find more reasons in this article. Let’s face it, we don’t always know why we do things. So let’s have some fun and explore why we’re playing this seemingly great new game! (And touch on some obstacles Pokemon Go will have to overcome to keep our attention for the long-term.)

We’ll start with our baseline motivations, think about player types, and finish with a list of game techniques playing into those motivations. Let’s goooo!

For this post, I donned my Magikarp t-shirt bought at C2E2 in Chicago and trekked around Minneapolis, MN nearby the repurposed flour mill I live in. (The t-shirt reads: “Pool Rules: No Splashing”)

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From an Octalysis Perspective (Octalysis Level I)

Pokemon Go plays to Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback, Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession, and Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness. There is a strong sense of the White Hat Core Drives (make us feel good) and Intrinsic motivators (we take actions for the sake of themselves).

  • Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback: Players are empowered to go anywhere and catch Pokemon
  • Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession: Being a real Pokemon trainer (nostalgia and wish fulfillment) and focusing on your own neighborhood and owning gyms
  • Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness: collaboration with friends, competition with rival factions for gyms


If you want to try the Octalysis tool for yourself, go to

Actual Game Techniques (from the lens of Octalysis)

This is a short list (we aren’t going into the detail on these just yet, so let us know what we missed in the comments!).

Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning & Calling:

  • Narrative (Game Technique #10): nostalgia is a recollection of a past narrative, someone recalls the memory of a journey they had on Pokemon Blue — my experience — or the trading card game →this plays into micro-interactions, too, like the capture of a Magikarp’s which make the player laugh as they remember how useless Magikarp’s splash attack was in the video games, but also how awesome Magikarp’s evolution — Gyarados — was in winning gym battles 🙂
  • Beginner’s Luck (GT #23): happen to live near scyther spawn or other rare Pokemon spawn
  • I Wanna Be The Very Best, No-One Ever Was: Being a Pokemon trainer in real life and I don’t have to give up my life to do it (this is a dream come true!)

Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment:

  • Desert Oasis (GT #38): see Pokemon or Pokestop or gym — but also must walk over to those locations

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  • Boss Fights (GT #14): gym battles
  • Achievement Symbols (GT #2): like Jogger, Collector, Scientist, and Breeder
  • Step-by-step Overlay Tutorial (GT #6): click on hints, overlay informing player she needs to be Level 5 to participate in the gyms

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  • High Five (GT #17) :“great!” or “nice!” when you throw a Pokeball (precedes CD6 when you’re not sure if the Pokemon will stay in the Pokeball!)
  • Crowning (GT #18): Gym ownership (Pokemon owning the gym are prominent on the visual interface)
  • Anticipation Parade (GT #15): hear a sound, see the Pokemon, get ready to throw Pokeballs or berries (sound design is excellent in Pokemon Go)

Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Feedback & Creativity:

  • Dynamic Feedback (GT #12): throwing Pokeballs; spinning Pokestop dials; gym battles
  • Plant Picker (GT #11): the meaningful choice of which Pokemon to strengthen, which to put in an incubator, which to trade with friends (coming soon!)
  • Milestone Unlock (GT #19): stronger Pokemon, ability to capture stronger pokemon in the wild, better items (great balls vs Pokeballs)
  • Creative Counters (GT #101): certain Pokemon types (grass, fire) counter other types in gym battles (knowing these and knowing what pokemon own gyms creates a Desired Action of collecting necessary Pokemon to defeat current gym holder)

Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession:

  • Collection Sets (GT #16): Gotta Catch’em All! Also subsets upon capture of grass, fire, electric type Pokemon
  • Protection Quest (GT #36): Defending your neighborhood gyms from rival factions
  • Avatar (GT #13): Dressing your avatar during Onboarding
  • Virtual Goods (GT #8): items exchanged for experience; items to remove grind
  • Alfred Effect (GT #83): items, journal, attire, Pokedex
  • Exchangeable Points (GT #75): Pokemon transfers will be available soon

Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness:

  • Group Quests (GT #22): to take over a gym, to explore new territory or parts of a city or environment)

I’m envisioning future group efforts to map the entire Earth! (Below is a map of Boston showing where various Pokemon have been caught.)


  • Friendship Loop (GT #60): faction or using lure, noticing others playing PokemonGo around you
  • Water Cooler (GT #55): people at a location all playing together…like the Brisbane Australia hangout–look at all those lures!:


  • Mentorship (GT #61): helping others, will become even more interesting when Transfers become available
  • Trading : Rumor has it this is coming in a future update! This yet again will play on nostalgia of trading cards and digital trading in previous Pokemon games
  • Capture the Flag : Gym battles provide competitive environments

Core Drive 6: Impatience & Scarcity:

  • RARE Pokemons: more Pokeballs needed to catch Pokemon as a player levels up; rare Pokemon in various environments or conditions (day/night, weather-based like wind/rain/sunshine); legendary Pokemon.
  • Magnetic Cap (GT # 68): there aren’t unlimited Pokemon; timer on spawns (lures help attract Pokemon)
  • Virtual Good Scarcity: certain items are rarer or more expensive (in the shop) (sometimes grind can be reduced by paying, similar to Farmville mechanics)
  • Last-Mile Drive (GT #53): that last kilometer to hatch your egg from incubating!

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Core Drive 7: Unpredictability & Curiosity:

  • Obvious Wonder (GT #87): exploring your town/village/nature/landscape (in my case, the Mississippi river and history). You get to see things that was always there but you never saw. Now you suddenly see it and it brings delight.

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When I caught my first Magikarp, realized the game was designed to account for environment (I was on the edge of the Mississippi River), felt the emotions of playing the card game, the GameBoy game (the memory of that emotion), and was excited to explore new environments to see how the Pokemon spawn zones might work.

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  • MiniQuests (GT #48): egg incubation (ongoing as a sub-plot to other tasks like “I want to go to this gym”)
  • Sudden Rewards/Easter Eggs (GT #39): sudden appearance of rare Pokemons that surprise people delightfully
  • Mystery Box: spinning dial at Pokestops; hatching eggs (what Pokemon will come out?) Walking around eventually hatches 2km or 5km eggs, but you don’t know what Pokemon will appear.

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Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance:

  • Sunk Cost Prison (GT #50): a player has invested so much time into gathering Pokemon and contributing go gym battles that he can’t quit
  • Progress Loss (GT #81): if you don’t play, your friends will progress faster than you (plays into peer pressure of CD5, black hat)
  • Status Quo Sloth (GT #85): will Chinese players switch from the clone to actual Pokemon go when it comes out?

So will Pokemon Go last forever?

Here is where we list things that don’t work potentially long-term for the game:

At the same time, we haven’t seen the Endgame for Pokemon Go yet. We don’t know how big they are planning to make the game from an exploration to achievement to social dynamics (trading will be very interesting).

But, like any experience, Pokemon Go may face challenges. What happens when I’ve caught most of the accessible Pokemon? What happens when its no longer fun to meet up with my friends to endlessly compete for our neighborhood gym? What happens if I get tired of the lack of strategy in gym battles?

These questions illustrate examples of the motivating effects of Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback, Core Drive 4: Ownership & Possession, Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness fading. At this juncture, Pokemon Go may, like many games, rely on the Sunk Cost Prison to keep users.

We know that Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity & Feedback is on the right top of the Octalysis Framework, meaning it is White Hat as well as Intrinsic Motivation. We know that all timeless games have Core Drive 3, and this means that there is a high level of strategy, meaningful choices, adjustments based on feedback and more. If Pokemon Go cannot implement a sophisticated way of maintaining Core Drive 3, the zealous crazy will likely fade out in 6-12 months.

In the meantime, we can see how emergence in real world behavior adapts and changes how people play the game. We are already seeing restaurants buy lures. The lures lure gamers into their restaurants 🙂


You Teach Me and I’ll Teach You

Time will tell if the Pokemon Go design team can continue to build an experience worth playing for a broad variety of players.

In the meantime, what did we miss? What game techniques is Pokemon Go using that have made you keep playing? Let’s have a conversation in the comments!

PS If you were counting, you’ll see I listed 37 game techniques. That’s a bonus of 10 techniques 🙂 Thanks for reading!

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21 responses to “27 Game Techniques Pokemon Go Used to Capture the World”

  1. Dang – I’ve literally only this week been trying to put together a similar analysis of Pokemon Go to form the basis of a presentation at work on how games and gamification can be used to engage people in science. I picked Pokemon Go because it is so location based, and many of our citizen science projects require people to go to specific locations to collect data. If only I’d found this post four days ago, I could have saved myself a great deal of time. Yours also has the advantage of having a framework rather than just being a list of PG behaviours mapped to equivalent activities we want our citizen scientist to carry out.

  2. Hey Yu-Kai, I am trying to collect all GTs. However, I have a question:
    In this article you are referring to Step-by-step Overlay Tutorial being GT6.
    In another article ( GT6 is Step-By-Step Onboarding.
    Yet another article ( claims GT9 is Step-By-Step Tutorials.
    Could you explain what GT6 and GT9 really are and what their difference is?

    Kind regards

  3. An analysis on the old Blue & Red versions would be a great article.
    Those mechanics worked for 7-years old kids but is deep enough to have a metagame created by older players it becomes like chess to them.

    The newest X and Y games still use Red & Blue mechanics. Maybe GO can gravitate towards this in the future…

  4. Thanks for the insightful article. I really enjoyed reading it.

    I was thinking about what core drive is affected by the augment reality feature that is implemented in the app. And can this feature be represented by a certain game technique that is secretely hidden on Google Drive? 🙂



  5. I have eventually read the article and made some notes )

    Yet I feel some kind of problem of nowadays apps/games. It is very fast burnout ( I don’t know what have happened to our culture, maybe it’s very speedy, but who remembers Prisma or Periscope? These are project developed as I can remember in 2015-2016.

    I suppose Pokemon Go can overcome this due to strong Narration component and real revolutionary approach in game design.

    Even when it was a cartoon, it DID implemented game mechanics and looked game-like. We can say that Pokemon series and todays Twitch streaming – have the same basis- watching someone to win, fail, achieve and develop. On twitch you watch how your friends or guru are playing, while on Pokemon series “friends”, “foes” and “gurus” were constructed. These controversies had led to some statements about possible psychological damage Pokemon series could make (as I can remember in Russia it was banned).

  6. I think that CD 7 Unpredictability is one of the main drives to play Pokemon Go game. Actually you walk around and pokemons apear sudendnly in places you don’t know and you don’t expect them to hide a pocemon. When you get one you are simply curious which one and where will be found next.

  7. Its a shame you cannot planify your training, like in the classic game: some pokemon appears randomly with high levels, so I put off my squirtlre CP 10

    I think they could create a polemon league for high level pokemon trainers so they leave the gyms to ordinary people

    • Hey Padlrosa, great point about training as that’s a difference from earlier games. Interesting idea, too, about separating trainers with high level pokemon. Thanks for reading!

      • gameboy times on point for sure, only played pokemon Blue on my end, but I’ve dabbled on others

  8. Hello!

    In this article you do refer to some Game Techniques (i suppose) (“GT #60”, etc.)

    Is there some list where all of them are listed? )
    Or it is “locked content”? )

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