It should be no surprise that the average Pokémon Go user is seeing a sizable impact to their overall health and fitness, what with all that real world Pokémon-catching. A study conducted at Microsoft Research, “Influence of Pokémon Go on Physical Activity: Study and Implications,” finds that the benefits of playing the physical activity-minded mobile game are more than just “sizable,” though: Players have increased their exercise levels so significantly that they’ve accounted for an estimated 144 billion steps taken nationwide, among other achievements.
The study queried nearly 1,500 Pokémon Go users during the months of July and August, when the game was inarguably at its peak popularity. That’s a small pool, considering how many millions downloaded the game just after launch, and there are other biases to take into account. Lead researcher Tim Althoff explained to Polygon that the findings resemble those of other, similar studies, however, lending credence to the results.
“We find that in our study, subjects had a median age of 33 (reasonable given expectations for who actually plays Pokémon Go), 36.5 percent were overweight and 28.2 percent are obese,” he wrote to us in an email. “This matches official U.S. estimates very well. These indicate that our population is not extremely off.”
The researchers required these subjects to use a $150 Microsoft Band to track their steps, an expense that could further skew results toward more affluent users. Still, the study turned up impressive results with regards to Pokémon Go’s potential impact on public health. More than their control group, who simply walked around with the Microsoft Band on, the team’s Pokémon trainers were becoming increasingly active.
“After they start playing Pokémon Go they exhibit a large increase in activity to an average of 7,229 daily steps ... which now is about 13 percent larger than the control population,” according to the study.
With more engagement came more time spent on their feet, walking around outdoors and ostensibly getting fit, regardless of age or gender. Althoff estimated that, alongside the positive potential effect on American step counts, the population could see an increase in average life expectancy as a result — upward of 2.825 million years.
“I find the life expectancy analysis intriguing because it highlights the massive impact that games like Pokémon Go could have on public health, the fact that an app could have a measurable impact on US-wide life expectancy,” he told us. “However, the analysis is based on the assumption that Pokémon Go would be able to sustain the high levels of engagement. This is certainly their goal but our analyses also highlight that this is their main challenge.”
Playtime with Pokémon Go has dropped off wildly since its summertime debut; even the research study noticed the change in engagment by its Aug. 23 conclusion. There are several factors for why players aren’t quite as active as they were when the game first arrived, including the change in seasons. So while Pokémon Go could still stand to be a boon for public health, that ship already may have sailed.
“We are very sure about the fact that Pokémon [Go] did increase activity significantly, that [the game is] able to reach less active populations compared to other health apps, and that activity dropped down after a few weeks, at least for the average user in our dataset.
“Being able to gain and sustain large-scale engagement is the holy grail for any app, game, or tech company. Pokémon Go, while very successful, seems to be no exception to that challenge.”