If you haven’t heard of the Pokémon GO craze, you’ve probably been living under a rock (that was me until this morning, so if you are under the rock, you’re not alone). If you were a child of the '90s like me, you probably remember the game in some capacity. “Gotta catch ‘em all” was the most used phrase in my second-grade class; the video games took over, the cards exploded, and it was a big day when my brother opened a card pack that contained a holographic Charizard in it! 

But, around 2000, was the last time I heard of them until a new mobile app called Pokémon GO launched this week. The app uses phone cameras and GPS signals to create an augmented reality game where players move around the physical world trying to find and catch Pokémon that appear on the screen.

What’s amazing is how widely the game has been downloaded and played in the first week, including players who've never been into Pokémon or video games in the past. According to an article by Reuters featured on Fortune, in two days Pokémon GO added $7.5 billion to Nintendo’s market value, has surpassed Tinder for total downloads on Android phones, and boasts a daily active user rate that rivals Twitter’s. The average time spent playing the game is 43 minutes a day. That is 43 minutes of quite literally trying to catch ‘em all.

So why the sudden success? Why has Pokémon GO become such a phenomenon and captured the entire world's attention? I have been taking the course Disruptive Strategy, and there is an interesting concept at play here. Is it possible that Nintendo has nailed a difficult “job to be done” perfectly? Possibly.

PokemonGO Interface
Photo: Nintendo/Niantic

People often complain about video games, saying: “they keep you inside” or “they are a time suck” or “it keeps me from getting exercise.” A common complaint about exercise is that it's boring or people do not want to pay for (or travel to) a gym.

While the video game industry hasn’t necessarily attempted to address those issues, the exercise community definitely has. There are Zumba classes, cheap gyms, and home workouts. Watches have been made to track steps and alert you when you are sedentary for too long. But, maybe Nintendo has finally found a way to make video games healthier and exercise more fun.

Is it possible that the “job to be done” here was: “help me avoid being unhealthy while playing video games” or “help me enjoy exercising”? If a company could nail these jobs perfectly, the success of whatever that product was would be monumental. Who wouldn’t want to buy/download/use or “hire” a product that makes video games healthy, or makes you actually want to get outside and be active for 45 minutes?

While this could be considered reading into it too much, and maybe I am, it is interesting to look at the success of the game thus far and note how it fills a job that most people would hire if it was nailed perfectly, to use Clayton Christensen’s wording. Well, Nintendo seems to have nailed this job perfectly, and, at least for the moment, is reaping the rewards.

Want to learn more about "jobs to be done" and other theories from Professor Christensen? Disruptive Strategy will equip you with the tools, frameworks, and intuition to make a difference.

Chris Larson

About the Author

Chris Larson is a former intern at Harvard Business School Online who worked with the marketing and product management teams.