Google’s Pokemon Challenge


I’ve been wanting to write this article for a while now, but life got in the way. Then I was lazy, and then the idea wasn’t really topical. Recent events have changed that though, so now I’m finally going to write it.

For anyone that completely missed it the Pokemon Challenge was Google’s elaborate April Fools’ game for this year. Now I’m not going to write this as a review because this kind of thing really is unprecedented. There’s nothing good to compare it to really. So instead I’m just going to go step by step with my own experience with it and try to justify my reactions.

So to start, there is the announcement. Not Google’s announcement, but the news site that was then writing an article about the announcement. Pretty much every news outlet completely failed to explain what was actually going on. But that’s not really their fault. I’m pretty sure the only source of information people had on the game (besides playing it yourself for several hours) was Google’s video. Said video is below:

So after watching that video it’s a lot easier to understand why understood how the game worked. I think the thought process went like this…

1. Holy Sh**! Augmented reality Pokemon! OMG!

B. Damn man. It’s April 1st, therefore the whole thing is fake.

– Oh it’s kind of a real thing? I guess that’s kind of cool then.

But still no one was clear on what this “kind of a real thing” was. So I’ll just spell it out. When you open Google Maps to specific locations will have a chance of having an icon depicting a specific Pokemon. Clicking that icon will add the Pokemon to your Pokedex. That’s it, just searching and clicking.

So let’s review. The idea is actually pretty cool. Scouring Google Maps for hours is hardly fun, but seeing Pokemon in real world locations was pretty cool. But because the only marketing for the game was a trailer that specifically depicted a 9000% cooler version of the same concept, the actual game seem so much lamer than it actually was. Pretty big misstep there Google.

Now to the actual collecting. Certain regions had just a bunch of Pokemon. Specifically San Francisco around Google HQ was pretty densely populated with Pokemon. These were all pretty common ones though, like the kind you’d find in the tall grass in the real Pokemon games. Then specific famous locations will typically have one moderately rare Pokemon. This was the best part of the game, because they were all contextualized. Like finding Pikachu at a power plant, and a ghost type Pokemon at Alcatraz Island. This really helped meld the Pokemon and the real world and made it worth continuing in the game just to see more similar juxtapositions. By grinding with these two kinds of search methods for several hours I was able to find about half of the available Pokemon.

This next part was tricky, because it was clear by that point that it was possible to get doubles of common Pokemon, while the rare ones were going to only appear once in your game. Also the Pokedex displayed that there were 150 total Pokemon, but they were a random assortment of the various generations. This made it almost impossible to know which ones you were missing by looking in your Pokedex. But thanks to the internet this was not a problem for long. One could easily just Google search for lists of know location for the missing Pokemon.

That was the first false hope. I had all 150 Pokemon caught, and I assumed I was done and could now relax. Hours later, in some back alley of the internet I learned that I was wrong. As I should have known, there was a secret 151st Pokemon to be caught, Mew. The hunt was on.


Unfortunately, unlike all the others, no one was certain of where Mew was. There was even a myth that Mews location was changing, and that every time he was caught by some one, he’d then be in a different place next time. This was not the case though. In actuality, it seems that Mew had maybe ten possible locations he could spawn at, but would only spawn at one of them for each player. Some of these possibilities were easy, like the Amazon River. Not for me. But once I figured out how Mew’s spawn worked, it was just a matter of entering the latitude and longitudes of the various known Mew locations. Eventually I succeeded and caught Mew. Now I really felt like I had accomplished something, and that I had really enjoyed the holistic experience the challenge had given me. Now I really could relax and bask in my success. That was my second false hope.

Only yesterday I became aware of how wrong I had been. Apparently if I had been following Google Maps on twitter (why would do that?) I would have seen a call for the people who had accomplished the challenge. If people responded to the tweet with the location at which they found Mew, GM would then send them a form to fill out which would them grant the person a still secret prize. But there were several flaws in this design.

1. You only needed to say the location of Mew. This could easily be Googled. There didn’t seem to be any clear evidence to suggest that the people being rewarded actually had completed the challenge. And considering this is Google, I have trouble believing this entire process couldn’t have been automated.

B. THEY PUT A TIME LIMIT IN THE TWEET! You had to respond to the tweet by April 21st. Why? Why is there a time limit? Why wasn’t this process automated through my Google+ account?

So I clearly missed the deadline. So I will receive no recognition, while it seems pretty clear that people who might not have accomplished anything will be.

In the end the whole thing just felt amateur. Like I missed out because this really big event was then passed off to an intern to resolve. It’s unfortunate because I truly enjoyed playing the actual game, but this is legitimately the first time ever that I’ve felt like the developers were just completely apathetic towards there player base, and I think I’ve lost a large amount of respect for Google in the process. They had an amazing opportunity that I can’t help but feel was met with pretension and a two-faced false attempt.

Maybe I’m making a bigger deal out of this that it deserves (clearly Google didn’t think it was a big deal at all) but it’s only because I really did enjoy and care bout the game it self. Now what was a great memory has been marred by amateur mistakes.

-Eric John E



  1. I don’t know… I feel like this isn’t a big Diehl. Like this was probably made by 5 dudes in a weekend. And those guys aren’t game designers. I’m more impressed with the little things they put in. I feel like you should look at this in the same way people look at the indie game space: looking for cool ideas but without expecting a perfectly polished or fully integrated functionality.
    This wasn’t meant to be a well thought out joke. It is just a few guys messing around. Like think of this as something that came out of a game jam type event. Then I think you’d be able to enjoy it more. Sure it would be cool if they spent more time on it, but it isn’t a big priority, just a fun little thing.

  2. I think I’m with Grant on this one. Google didn’t make this for gamers. They made it as an Easter egg and a marketing gimmick for an audience of everyday people who might get a kick out of the idea. I’m guessing that the most important part of this “project” for them was the marketing video, itself. Yeah, it’s pretty awesome that they went all the way to create something functional (which, as Grant said, probably took a weekend or two), but I think the majority of users gave up long before finding every single Pokemon—and that’s fine. (Of course, for the devoted, Google threw in a fun little challenge to find Mew and an admittedly poorly implemented reward for reporting it to Twitter, but that’s not the point.)

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