Open Access Article on the Effects of COVID-19 on Location-based Game Players

Today we published an open access article that investigates how COVID-19 has affected players of Pokémon GO and other location-based games (LBGs), as well as their developers. This is a very topical and interesting area, since LBGs are largely based on user mobility in the real world, whereas people all over the world were encouraged, if not forced, to stay  isolated indoors during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are the details of the article:

  • Authors: Samuli Laato, Teemu H. Laine and A.K.M. Najmul Islam
  • Title: Location-Based Games and the COVID-19 Pandemic: An Analysis of Responses from Game Developers and Players
  • Journal: Multimodal Technologies and Interaction (open access)
  • Abstract: In early 2020, as a countermeasure to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, governments issued limitations on the movements of their citizens, cancelling social events and advising people to stay home. As location-based games (LBGs) have been found to influence human movement, their role during COVID-19 deserves closer inspection. Under regular circumstances, the very aim of these games is to motivate people to go out, explore and meet other people. However, during COVID-19, people were advised to do the exact opposite. To study how LBG developers and players reacted to the situation, we used the netnography research method utilizing three types of data: (1) COVID-19 related in-game changes made by seven popular LBG developers during March 2020; (2) social media reactions on 20 posts across three popular Pokémon GO subreddits; and (3) the raiding activity (collaborative play) in Pokémon GO in a Finnish municipality during February–May 2020. All observed LBGs made in-game changes due to COVID-19. The social media reactions showed overwhelming appreciation towards these changes, and two central second order themes arose: (1) LBGs have the ability to influence human movement during pandemics; and (2) people should be able to self-regulate their behaviour during COVID-19 independent of LBG influence. Surprisingly, recorded Pokémon GO player activity in Finland was more influenced by offered in-game rewards than the COVID-19 pandemic. Our findings have implications on how games and gamification can be used to direct human movement in situations such as COVID-19 where population-level interventions are needed.

Big thank you and congratulations to Samuli and Najmul for this article!


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