It seems like yesterday when Pokémon Go took the world by storm, captivating the minds of millions across the globe. The unintended consequences of its success was an increase in activity of its users. Some even dubbed the game the next best health app since it got individuals moving while being unaware of the amount of steps they were taking.

As a reminder for those of us who have forgotten about the game, players have to walk one kilometer, as measured by the phone’s sensors, to hatch a new Pokémon from an egg. Driving is out of the question, as users must stay below the 10 or 15-mile-per-hour speed limit. This required users to travel the old school way: with their two feet, which resulted in increased activity.

According research published in the British Medical Journal, “Pokémon Go was associated with an increase in the daily number of steps after installation of the game. The association was, however, moderate and no longer observed after six weeks.” Specifically, the analysis found that the daily average steps for Pokémon Go players during the first week of installation increased by 955 additional steps. However, this increase gradually attenuated over the subsequent five weeks, and by the sixth week after installation, the number of daily steps had gone back to pre-installation levels. The study found no significant differences for users by sex, age, race group, bodyweight status, urbanity, or walkability of the area of residence. It is important to note the study surveyed 1,182 Americans, all of whom had an iPhone 6, and a little under half of whom were Pokémon Go players. The participants were found on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, which at this point seems like something of a niche population.

Statistical graph depicting average steps per day before and after Pokemon Go app installation

What can employers and health plans learn from this study? It seems on the surface that the novelty of Pokémon Go wore off, and as a result, users were walking less because chasing Pokémons were no longer appealing. This is not meant to be a slight on the game, but an observation on the reality of keeping the attention and interest of individuals. Even the creator of Pokémon Go, Ninantic Labs, recognizes the importance of novelty, which is why they are constantly launching new games based on augmented reality. The takeaway for employers and health plans is that if gamification is a major driver of engagement in their programs, it is important for them to design wellness challenges that regularly change to keep things fresh. Otherwise, the novelty of a challenge wears off and users disengage. To keep things fresh and tailored to a specific population, organizations need to leverage a wellness challenges platform like Wellable that allows groups to customize and configure challenges to their specific needs.

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