How Pokémon GO contributed to OSM and international cartography

For most, it’s no surprise that Pokémon GO, along with other geolocation-based mobile games from Niantic Lab (Ingress and Harry Potter: Wizards Unite) rely on OpenStreetMap (OSM), ‘one of the largest sources of volunteered geographic information’ as Brian Alan Johnson indicates in a recent analysis published in International Cartographic Association.

Mainly, what might surprise some is how OSM, and as a result international cartography, benefited from Pokémon GO. And that is what Johnson highlights in his analysis which focuses on the South Korean community as it always was the only region using OSM data from the launch of the game.

Click here for the full analysis from Brian Alan Johnson.

Through his analysis, Johnson demonstrates how the quantity of daily contributors and edits to OSM increased massively with the launch of Pokémon GO, but also how the profile from these contributors actually affected OSM as a cartographic tool.

The main findings were:

(i) the number of daily contributors and daily edits both increased by more than 17 times following the launch of Pokémon GO in South Korea, but returned to more normal levels after around 11⁄2 months;

(ii) Most individuals contributing to OSM because of Pokémon GO reportedly did so to improve the in-game map appearance and in-game mechanics; and

(iii) Individuals motivated to contribute to OSM because of Pokémon GO tended tocreate/edit OSM “park” and “water body” features more than other OSM contributors.

Johnson, 2019

Something that isn’t really addressed by Johnson is how international cartography benefited as a whole thanks to Pokémon GO users who merely wanted to improve their experience of the game. This would potentially require a more in-depth analysis, but would be quite interesting to find out nonetheless.

That being said, to us, the most interesting observation from Johnson’s analysis is how the Pokémon GO community actually benefited communities unrelated to Pokémon GO or even mobile gaming as a whole. While there isn’t much to say about this analysis, it is worth noting that a simple (yet complex) geolocation-based mobile game affected positively more than just its users, but external communities as well.

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