How Pokemon Go found success — despite not being a very good game

Pokemon Go has taken the world by storm, with millions setting out this month to become Pokemon trainers — even though by most traditional metrics it isn't a very good video game.

Mixed reviews, technical glitches don't stop the app from topping download charts

People play Pokemon Go during a 'PokeTour' organized by the municipality in San Salvador, El Salvador, on July 23. (Jose Cabezas/Reuters)

Pokemon Go has taken the world by storm, with millions of people venturing outside this month as aspiring Pokemon trainers — even though by traditional metrics it isn't a very good video game.

Currently on Metacritic, the game reviews aggregate website, Pokemon Go has a 68 per cent average rating, with 13 "positive" and 15 "mixed" reviews for the smartphone game.

Critics panned the app's frequent crashes, high drain on a smartphone's battery and lack of instructions or advice about how to power up or evolve your creature collection. It has far fewer features than traditional Pokemon games on Nintendo's handheld consoles like the Game Boy and 3DS.

Most importantly for newcomers, basic instructions on how to actually play the game are few and far between.

A "tips" section lays out the basics of what Pokestops and gyms are, but little else. 

A "Help Center" option buried in the game's settings screen links to developer Niantic's help page. 

It's no wonder, then, that explainers and tutorials make up a chunk of media coverage about Pokemon Go.

Community learning 

But the very fact that players actually need to talk to others to figure out how the game works seems to contribute to its massive success as a social catalyst.

On a Gamasutra blog post titled "Pokemon Go and the good things that can come from a bad UI (user interface)," writer Chris Furniss compared the common experience of learning how to play Pokemon Go to learning how to play a board game.

"The majority of the time you're learning with a friend who has already played the game. You can ask questions, and get your learning experience tailored to the way that you learn best," Furniss wrote.

"The less-than-intuitive UI may not have been intentionally confusing on Niantic's part, but they certainly stumbled upon something magical: the power of the community."

A fan plays Pokemon Go in Hong Kong on July 25. (Kin Cheung/Associated Press)

What's more, Pokemon Go's relatively bare-bones feature set may be what's attracting the large audience — one that would otherwise be alienated by traditional Pokemon games, like the upcoming instalments Pokemon Sun and Moon, which are comparatively packed with menus as well as complex battle and exploration mechanics.

In a Guardian feature that asked developers how they would improve Pokemon Go, Rami Ismail of game studio Vlambeer argued that its strength comes from the fact that it isn't much of a video game at all.

"It's a collection game. It misses all of those things that people think about when they think 'game,' and that's why it's accessible and pleasant," Ismail said.

But while Pokemon Go's simplicity can be credited for the game's sudden popularity, developer Niantic's CEO John Hanke has acknowledged that his team is working on new features needed to maintain fan interest for the longer term.

During a panel discussion at San Diego Comic-Con last weekend, he discussed multiple planned additions, including the ability to trade and breed Pokemon, new options for customizing Pokestops and eventually expanding the number of Pokemon species beyond the approximately 150 of the first wave.