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Unraveling Pokémon Go’s Workplace Enigma

Jul 28, 2016
World Class Faculty & Research


SMITH BRAIN TRUST — A Forbes survey last week revealed 69 percent of its respondents have played Pokémon Go during work hours. Meanwhile, SHRM issued a bulletin to advise companies on managing employees who have been among the one in 10 Americans who own smartphones playing Pokémon GO daily since the game’s July 7 U.S. launch. “The game is distracting to a degree, but it also reveals gamification principles that increase productivity that managers can appreciate,” says management professor Oliver Schlake at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. “Pokémon Go shows an effective way to motivate people to grind at their work day to day.”

>> Related: Gamification: Why San Francisco Loves Airbnb

The blended reality game, which allows players to capture magical creatures mapped to physical locations, is effective in how it rewards and motivates players in an incremental way to engage regularly and advance upward through levels. “Productive employee behavior and consistent work quality can be similarly induced through recognition for project-to-project completion and quality that’s rewarded with recognition explicit to and given by peers,” says Schlake, a self-described gamer with an engineering background in game development. "The level-up element plays in," he adds, "by framing new tasks and responsibilities as having increasing importance.”

The game further magnifies the distinction between a micro-promotion approach and a job-promotion structure based on annual reviews, through which employees tend to work with more diligence in the week or days leading up to the review instead of continuously improving throughout the year, Schlake says.

Like March Madness

Pokémon Go also can spur self-confidence and collaborativeness among workers and function as an easy way to bridge natural divisions in a department. March Madness office brackets have a similar effect, but Pokémon Go uses the smartphone as the operating tool. “While success at Pokémon Go doesn’t make that employee more productive, showing prowess in something popular — like solving the Rubik’s Cube in the 1980s — holds a certain appeal that gives a degree of social acceptance among peers and co-workers,” he says. Younger professionals, conditioned to virtual reality gaming’s solitary nature “probably are especially hungry for the relatively low-risk social contact” the game promotes, in the office and more so with other Pokémon Go players they randomly meet.

Such appeal for 20-to-30-year-olds reflects the perfectly timed introduction of the concept based on a brand ingrained in Millennials through late-1990s video games, trading cards, TV shows and movies. It illustrates the effectiveness of reintroducing popular kid-targeted brands when those consumers have buying power, Schlake says. Lego and Marvel comics are earlier examples, with others looming in these 15-to-20-year cycles.


Pokémon Go also signals a big future in augmented reality based on a computer-generated, detailed imagination layer over the real world, Smith entrepreneurship lecturer Jonathan Aberman writes in a recent Washington Post column describing the business implications. “I worked in this field while getting my PhD,” he writes. “(Augmented reality) will turn into a lot of business-relevant experiences." An example, he says, is the forthcoming Google Glass Enterprise Edition with an improved, pocket-compatible keyboard-mouse feature. It’s being designed for the workplace for such uses as “connecting during a meeting to a Linked In database, with facial recognition and in real time, for valuable background information.”


About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business

The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and part-time MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, specialty master's, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.

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