I’ve seen a lot of social media about the game’s mechanics, but very little about how to run events, so here are some practical tips based on a quick capacity test I did today. The tips assume you know the basics of the game.
Curriculum material is already available
There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. For example, this page on how to use Pokemon Go with autistic kids is excellent.
Graphics are also available. Check your local copyright law, but .png files for the team logos (and the Harmony logo) are really easy to find in Google Images.
You can’t control where your Pokestops are and that means your service level varies
At time of writing, sponsored stops and gyms are merely likely, not an available servuice from Niantic. This means that in large library services (like the one I work for but don’t represent in this post) you can’t guarantee equal coverage for game events in each suburban branch.
Some of our branches have no coverage, or have coverage only in areas which are too dangerous for supervised events (like carparks). There is a Great Green Desert in the middle of my part of the city, where the rich suburbs are. If your service specializes a bit you can still facet events around themes (Pokemon Go for autistic kids at the Special Needs Library, Pokemon Go history walk at the Local Studies Library) but you are going to be leaving people out.
Pokemon Go requires a smartphone
My branch’s suburb has dragged itself up to average for my city. That just means there’s a rich enclave up one end of our statistical area, and it skews the average, hiding areas of deep disadvantage which are directly adjacent to the library. The Library was placed here as part of an urban regeneration scheme precisely because of the area’s demographic difficulties. A lot of the kids who live here do not have smartphones: the idea that every kid has an Android in their backpack just isn’t true.
Optimal play requires the player to harvest many sites, so you can’t just run Pokemon Go days over and over (like Minecraft events)
Each area has different endemic Pokemon. My library has a lot of jiggypuffs, and the park across the road has a lot of venonats. If I were a player dead serious about catching them all, there’s a limit to the number of jiggypuffs and venonats I’d want. I could insterad go to a library which has some rock poekmon, or out to one of the coastal libraries and work on my enormous pile of magikarps. In a multi-branch service, some players are going to want to tour.
Lure modules are the only way you can currently affect the setting for other players (outside of gyms)
It is not possible to battle other players directly, or give prizes in game, at this time. Lures are your only in-game tool to create community. One of the in-game resources are razz berries, so you could use gelatine lollies if you don’t mind giving kids sugar and food colouring. You do you.
You can get lures for free if you plan in advance
Players are guaranteed to get lures at certain levels. I knew I needed two, so I just saved the ones I received for leveling to 8 and 10. Even if that had failed, they only cost about an AUD each.
Lures are so common that they are a basic requirement, not the whole program
Let me give you the thousand words with a picture of the play environment when I did my library capacity test. The two closest lures to the player avatar are mine. The rest are just what happens of an afternoon in my suburb. On a fine day like this, the park across the road was clearly the better spot to play, provided the trainer didn’t need free wi-fi.
Give each child their own trainer: don’t use a parent’s.
As a trainer levels up, it becomes progressively more difficult for that trainer to catch Pokemon. This makes the game more challenging to play, particularly for children who find the “flick to catch” mechanic awkward. If the game’s difficulty has adapted to the skill level of the parent, it can be frustrating for younger or less dexterous kids.
Have a mission
The game is open-ended, with little emergent narrative. To make each play session more discrete, each parent can go through their player’s badges and select one to earn for that session as a “victory”. Alternatively, you can just select a group goal (collect a certain number of pokeballs, catch a certain number of pokemon.)
Niantic’s servers are fragile, but players know this and are forgiving
We’ve all had computer classes where the network or power fail, but Niantic’s servers are far more fragile than any of our paid vendors. The day we did our capacity test was rumoured to be Japan Rollout Day. You need a plan B, which makes Pokemon Go great as a backup event for something else (like a wider tech class, or a Minecraft event). Pokemon played inside is incidental (basically you wait for a creature to show) and so it can be intercut with other self-paced events.
Tell people where to walk
At a library like mine, with two stops that are the length of the building apart, the optimal low-movement play strategy is to have a friend camp at each end, and call/text/wave if something spawns. Since the spawn cycle on lures is roughly 5 minutes, and they are non-synchronous, that means that you catch the most Pokemon if you rapidly walk from one end of the building to the other. You can also harvest a lot of pokeballs and work on your eggs by just doing laps of the building. Our branch, fortunately, has a central spine-way that’s really wide, but in smaller branches, you’d need to seriously consider how the foot traffic would work.
Look at your measurements of impact and effectiveness
We used customer feedback forms (pencil and paper) because for the capacity test we didn’t want to create a flashmob, so we limited our social media exposure. We did this with a “please don’t tell” in-branch strategy, where we encouraged post-event sharing. (PDT is a New York bar which developed its brand around asking patrons to not tell people it existed, so that they felt social cachet from being included. We did it to limit the number of players, and limit it to people who were regulars and would understand if the whole thing fell over due to server issues) The paper testimonials are collected as an impact measurement, but I’d like to develop something more robust for autism-themed events.
We can monitor our WiFi signins, and our primary line for players walking the stops crosses our entry tally laser, which may mean that our entry tally for the day is irregular.
You can’t choose when the event ends
My branch has two stops (one in the park behind us, one in the garden in front of us) and free WiFi, so it looked like a good place to do a capacity test. The thing is, when people have a good time at a lure, some feel that the right thing to do is to pay it forward, and refresh the lure. That means that once you start, you can’t actually tell people when to stop playing.
Pokemon Go is terrible for kids with mobility issues
You can work around this a little by either having your event in the vesica piscis of two lured Pokestops, or by having each attendee burn an incense. At time of writing, you cannot supply the incense. The incense-attracted Pokemon are only visible to individual players, those attracted by lures can be caught by all nearby players. Even with incense, kids who move attract more Pokemon. Rumours that Niantic can change the settings of the game for kids with mobility issues are not confirmed at time of writing.
Open your wallet or purse
I’ve managed dozens of hours of free play with Pokemon Go, but I’m sorely tempted to buy some pokeballs for my child to waste throwing wildly at passing pidgeys.
I know some players hate micro-transactions. I know some people think they are insidious. I personally hate the way that the numbers are so jangled (and in my case in a foreign currency) that it is hard to eyeball precisely how much things cost. Some sites claim that balls are “free” so you should not pay for them.
No: you should buy stuff anyway.
Gamers are used to paying very little, in terms of dollar per hour, for their entertainment. The “anchor point” (technical term) we have for our digital media is “free” and some of us resent any move away from free. We are, if not happy, at least willing, to pay AUD20 for a movie ticket or AUD30 for a book, but we balk at paying for games. This creates real problems in terms of content creation.
There’s also a matter of time cost. Yes, I can drive ten minutes to my local park and camp by the lure party, grabbing some pokeballs every five minutes. That’s fine: but to think it is “free”, in petrol or time, is a mistake. You aren’t a bad player if you throw Niantic a few bucks. There’s a world of difference between buying some balls or incense to ensure your child has the in-game resources to have a pleasant half hour (that supports your learning outcomes) and buying dozens of lucky eggs to let you crush the other trainers at a gym. If your use of real-world money in game is not decreasing the enjoyment of other players, then it’s not unsporting.
If you have any other tips, or other curriculum material, please share in the comments.
(A quick bit of legalese: I do not represent my employer.)