Location-Based Games and the COVID-19 Pandemic: An Analysis of Responses from Game Developers and Players
2.1. How Location-Based Games Influence Behaviour
2.2. Human Behaviour during Pandemics
2.3. Study Context: The COVID-19 Pandemic
- Face-to-face meetings of more than 10 people are forbidden.
- People over the age of 70 or belonging to a risk group should self-isolate and stay at home.
- School buildings are closed and schools must move to distance education. Libraries, hobby facilities, gyms and universities are closed as well, and most public events are cancelled.
- Everyone arriving from abroad will need to immediately self-quarantine for two weeks.
- Using public transportation is heavily discouraged.
3. Research Design
3.1. Research Questions and Overall Research Methodology
- What in-game changes did LBG developers make during the COVID-19 pandemic?
- How did LBG players respond to these changes and the pandemic in social media?
- Did the pandemic, governmental measures and in-game changes in Pokémon GO have an impact on the frequency of social play?
3.2. Observation of In-Game Changes
3.3. Social Media Reactions
3.4. Change in Frequency of Social Play
4. Results of Measures Taken by LBG Developers
4.1. Pokémon Go
- 12 March, Niantic cancels the social Community day event and offers bonuses relating to individual play instead such as dropping gifts from stops most frequently.
- 12 March, Niantic extends social raid event until 31 March.
- 17 March, Niantic announces the cancellation of the social event Raid Hour
- 19 March, a new in-game event requiring social play was announced lasting until 21 April.
- 23 March, Niantic announced increased daily bonuses relating to solo-play activities that do not require social interaction.
- 23 March, Niantic announced they have cancelled the planned social events: Lugia Raid Week and Raid Hour
- 23 March, the walking requirement for battle league is removed.
- 25 March, select field research tasks that cannot be finished from home are removed.
- 30 March, John Hanke, the CEO of Niantic, publishes a blog post explaining the actions Pokémon GO has taken and plans to take to combat COVID-19.
- 31 March, the interaction distance of gyms is doubled.
4.2. Other Location-Based Games
4.2.2. Ingress Prime
4.2.3. The Walking Dead: Our World
4.2.4. Minecraft Earth
4.2.5. Harry Potter: Wizards Unite
- Tonic for Trace Detection will reveal Traces more frequently
- Tonic for Trace Detection will have Master Notes effectiveness increased from 15% to 50%
- Ingredients will appear on the Map more frequently, especially those needed for Tonic for Trace Detection
- Traces will appear on the Map more frequently
- Spell Energy will appear on the Map
- A free store bundle will be available in the Diagon Alley shop featuring 4 Tonics for Trace Detection
- The amount of Gifts that can be opened each day will be increased from 10 to 20
4.2.6. Jurassic World: Alive
4.3. Summary of How LBG Developers Reacted
5. Results on Social Media Reactions
5.1.1. Pokémon Go Is Not a Suitable Game for the COVID-19 Situation
5.1.2. LBG Developers Should Be Given Time to Make In-Game Changes and Adjust to the COVID-19 Situation
5.1.3. Do LBG Developers Have a Moral Responsibility to Avoid Encouraging Unwanted Behaviour during COVID-19?
5.2.1. Pokémon Go Has Done a Good Job Minimizing Incentives It Provides Players to Break Quarantine
5.2.2. Playing Should Not Be a Reason to Break Quarantine or Avoid Self-Isolation
5.2.3. The Pokémon Go Developer Could Have Done More
5.3.1. Rejoicing of LBG Developers Loss of Revenue Due to COVID-19
5.3.2. The COVID-19 Situation Disturbs Playing
5.3.3. Playing Should Not Be a Reason to Break Quarantine or Avoid Self-Isolation
5.3.4. LBG Developers Have a Responsibility to Minimize the Impacts Their Game Has on Unwanted Pandemic Behavior
5.4. Identified Themes and Aggregate Dimensions
6. Results on Observation of Social-Play during the COVID-19 Pandemic
7.1. Key Findings
- What in-game changes did LBG developers make due to the COVID-19 pandemic?Out of the seven observed games, all introduced in-game changes to support stationary play and to reduce the temptation the game causes to go out, explore and socialize. The first in-game changes were reported on 12 March on Pokémon GO, with several games making even more changes afterwards. The last game to take COVID-19 into account was Minecraft: Earth which was updated on 25 March. Perhaps the most notable and controversial case was Pokémon GO, which despite cancelling social events and increasing stationary gameplay via several changes, still announced new legendary raids on 19 March at which point most of European countries and the United States were already advising people to stay indoors and avoid social contact if possible.
- How did LBG players respond to these changes and the pandemic in social media?The social media thematic analysis revealed two main 2nd order themes: (1) LBG developers can help with the on-going pandemic situation; and (2) People should self-regulate their behaviour and it is not the LBG designers and developers responsibility to intervene. These themes were connected to the coping appraisal construct of PMT, mainly response costs and self-efficacy, respectively. Players also demonstrated a high response efficacy with regard to self-isolation and were thankful that LBG developers took measures to reduce players’ response costs of adopting the recommended health measures amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Did the pandemic, governmental measures and in-game changes in Pokémon GO have an impact on the frequency of social play?Contrary to what was expected based on the rest of the analysis, the observed raid chat indicated that during 1 February–12 May 2020 in Finland, players’ behaviour was overwhelmingly more impacted by the LBGs rewards than COVID-19. A focused observation of player behaviour five days before and after the Finnish government issued restrictions on meetings showed no difference in social play activity. These findings, while limited by the sample, indicate that LBG developers have significant influence over their player population’s movement, which they can manipulate with available digital raid rewards.
7.2. Implications of the Findings
7.3. On Moral Responsibility of the Gaming Industry
7.4. Limitations and Future Work
Conflicts of Interest
|HBM||Health belief model|
|GPS||Global positioning system|
|COVID-19||Coronavirus disease 2019|
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et al. 
|Pokémon GO||3492||No overarching|
|Playing Pokémon GO does not cause players|
to permanently adopt unwanted behaviours
outside the game context.
et al. 
|Pokémon GO||358||No overarching|
|Pokémon GO encourages going outside and|
decreases sedentary behaviour.
et al. 
|Pokémon GO||375||No overarching|
|Pokémon GO reinforces existing geographical|
biases and influences player movement patterns.
The game can cause players to permanently
change commute routes.
|Harris ||Beat the Street||1567||No overarching|
|Gamification-based health behaviour interventions|
can have lasting effects with a significant portion
of participants maintaining physically active lifestyle
even two years after the intervention period is over.
et al. 
|Pokémon GO and Ingress impact player’s attitudes|
towards game slang and can cause polarized
attitudes towards players on opposing teams.
et al. 
|Gameplay with cooperative features can encourage|
altruistic behaviour and we-intentions.
et al. 
|Pokémon GO||405||No overarching|
|Playing Pokémon GO increases visiting places,|
improves well-being and increases physical
activity. These were linked to enjoyment which
was further linked to increased intention to
spend money on the game.
|LBG developers’ responses|
Social media reactions
Raiding frequency in a Finnish city
|Seven popular LBGs|
20 posts and related comments
|1 1 January–2 April 2020|
4 March–3 April 2020
February–12 May 2020
|Affordance||Games Where Present|
|Rewards from walking||Pokémon GO, Ingress,|
Jurassic World: Alive and
Harry Potter: wizards Unite
|Moving reveals new content||All observed games|
|Defending territory||Ingress, Orna, Pokémon GO|
|Change walking route||All observed games|
|Encourage face-to-face meetings||Pokémon GO, Ingress,|
Harry Potter: Wizards Unite
|Upvotes||Type of Post||Main Content|
|A 77-year old Pokémon GO player in Spain gets fined for breaking quarantine|
to play Pokémon GO.
It is important to wear a face mask while playing.
The change to gym encounter distance causes a bug with rocket leaders
It is important to stay safe during the pandemic.
A pikachu wearing a face mask.
Pokémon GO is the worst kind of game people should be playing during the
Art depicting the importance of keeping social distance while playing.
Distance trading should be allowed in Pokémon GO for the duration of the pandemic.
Capturing pokemon should reward extra balls to make playing from home easier.
Niantic makes in-game changes to reduce the incentive the game provides to go out
|Upvotes||Type of Post||Main Content|
|The walking requirement for GO Battle League is removed, allowing players|
to grind it from home
A poke ball box helping out players who cannot leave their houses to spin pokestops
for balls is made available
Field research tasks that cannot be finished from home are removed.
Niantic is working on more in-game updates to combat COVID-19.
Gifts drop more easily from gyms and pokestops reducing the incentive
to go outside.
|Upvotes||Type of Post||Main Content|
|“Ironic turn of events don’t ya think Niantic?” about the COVID-19|
“Spoofing is a great way to enjoy Pokemon GO while staying safe from
“Imagine how dumb Niantic feels” about spoofing and COVID-19.
Title: “A note for Niantic….” about how spoofing in Pokémon GO is an
“It looks like Covid19 is responsible for niantic fixing their broken game”.
© 2020 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
Laato, S.; Laine, T.H.; Islam, A.K.M.N. Location-Based Games and the COVID-19 Pandemic: An Analysis of Responses from Game Developers and Players. Multimodal Technol. Interact. 2020, 4, 29. https://doi.org/10.3390/mti4020029
Laato S, Laine TH, Islam AKMN. Location-Based Games and the COVID-19 Pandemic: An Analysis of Responses from Game Developers and Players. Multimodal Technologies and Interaction. 2020; 4(2):29. https://doi.org/10.3390/mti4020029Chicago/Turabian Style
Laato, Samuli, Teemu H. Laine, and A.K.M. Najmul Islam. 2020. "Location-Based Games and the COVID-19 Pandemic: An Analysis of Responses from Game Developers and Players" Multimodal Technologies and Interaction 4, no. 2: 29. https://doi.org/10.3390/mti4020029