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A Rodríguez Serrano, M Martín-Núñez, S Gil-Soldevila  (2017): “Ludologic design and augmented reality. The game experience in Pokémon Go! (Niantic, 2016)”. Revista Latina de Comunicación Social, 72, pp. 667 to 678.
http://www.revistalatinacs.org/072paper/1185/35en.html
DOI: 10.4185/RLCS-2017-1185en

Ludologic design and augmented reality. The game experience in Pokémon Go! (Niantic, 2016)

Aarón Rodríguez Serrano [CV] [o http://orcid.org/0000-0002-3858-1045] [ ghttps://scholar.google.es/citations?user=93KnFQEAAAAJ&hl=es] Profesor Investigador Contratado Doctor. Universitat Jaume I (España) serranoa@uji.es

Marta Martín-Núñez [CV] [o http://orcid.org/0000-0002-9473-1183] [ ghttps://scholar.google.es/citations?user=aOMC9rAAAAAJ&hl=es] Profesora Ayudante Doctor. Universitat Jaume I (España) mnunez@uji.es

Samuel Gil-Soldevila [CV] [o orcid.org/0000-0002-4711-6268] [ ghttps://scholar.google.es/citations?user=rzMaEj0AAAAJ&hl=es] Personal Investigador en Prácticas. Universitat Jaume I (España) sssoldevi@uji.es

Abstract
Introduction: The main objective in our research is to identify the narrative and ludological processes between the Pokemon Go! players, the most relevant “augmented reality” video game till now. Methodology: We applied a socio-metric tool validated by different professionals to 332 gamers selected with a non-probabilistic but incidental strategy. Results and conclusions: The results reveal that we can´t find a correlation between the previous narrative knowdlege of the Pokémon universe with the perception of the ludofictional processes of the game. The insights of the gamers are more connected with the mechanics, rules and objectives of the game by itself. Our research contributes by the proposal of a new tool for measuring the quantitative inputs of the ludological perceptions. At the same time, we propose for the first time a quantitative research based on the game habits of an augmented reality product.

Keywords
Video Games; Augmented Reality; Ludology; Narratology; Pokémon Go!

Contents
1. Introduction. 2. Methodology. 2.1 Sample and data collection procedure. 2.2 Data Collection Tool. 3. Results. 3.1 Gamers profile. 3.2 Narratological factors on the Pokémon Go´s experience. 3.3 Perception of the game dynamics. 4. Discussion and conclusions.

Traducción realizada por Aarón Rodríguez Serrano (Universitat Jaume I – España)

 [ Research ] [ Funded ] 
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1. Introduction

Our paper will analyze the narratological and ludological perception of Pokemon go! (Niantic, 2016), using a quantitative methodology. The object of our study shows several problems, both in textual and contextual aspects –there has been a huge amount of noise developed by the mass media, studied in different papers (Baranowski, 2016; Serino, Cordrey, McLaughlin, & Milanaik, 2016). We think that it´s necessary to develop a brief quibble about the limits of our study and some concrete methodological aspects.

In the present time, Pokemon Go! is an open text: every month we can find new technological modifications (new patches) and some of the ludological characteristics are continuously changing. We have been working since the first version available in Spain (15th of July of 2016) to the 0.45.0 version, activated on the 7th of November of 2016.

This volatily of the object of study is a classical characteristic of each video game as a postmodern text (Rodríguez Serrano, 2014). In fact, the main idea of the game –using the augmented reality as the main strategy to raise a ludological universe (Azuma, 1997)-, means that the software must include necessarily the option of be rebuilt and updated. We agree with José Antonio Planells (2015) and his works about the construction of virtual worlds: trying to analyze a concrete virtual universe means, in the first place, to understand the concrete ludological processes of meaning. Our research tries to response to two classical issues of the Game Studies. In the first place, we ask ourselves about the relations between classical narrative and the virtual worlds –or, in the other words, the difference between “structured narratives” and “emergent narratives”. Secondly, we will study the gamer´s perception of the ludological elements (rules, objectives, items, gameplay).

In the first place –the relations between classical narrative and ludology-, our paper follows the classical argumentation between Murray (1999) and the several academics joined around the Game Studies journal (Juul, 1999, 2001). The different points of view were focused around the several uses of narrative elements in the game experience. It´s true that now we can work with complex and interesting hybrid systems híbridos (Frasca, 1999, 2003; Pérez Latorre, 2012), but we think that the inner nature of Pokemon Go! can show new aspects about the importance of the plot, the characters and their concrete functions on the gameplay. Furthermore, our analysis will use a quantitative methodology based on statistical descriptions. It´s a new scope that will help use to complete the mentioned studies –mostly based on a qualitative methodology based on textual analysis.

In the second topic – the perception of the ludological aspects-, we follow two complementary systems of indicators. In one hand, the taxonomy developed by Navarro Remesal (2016), which proposes a systematic classification of rules, mechanics, objectives. In the other hand, we find very useful the classification developed by Siabra Fraile (2012), which uses the second Wittgenstein to understand the virtual worlds using three different categories: characters, items and objects. The combination of both systems helped us to create a new tool, which, as we will show in the next epigraph, was tested rigorously.

Both areas of study were summarized in four concrete objectives of research:

  1. We want to know the concrete profile of the Pokemon go! gamer: gender, educational level, weekly time of game…

  2. We want to understand what is the concrete influence of the previous knowledge of the Pokemon universe on the gamer experience – we will take in account the tv serie, the movies and the previous games developed in other platforms

  3. We want to identify the concrete perception of the gamers about the concrete tools used on the design of the game: objectives, motivations, and challenges…

  4. We want to explore the main causes of the dropout of the game, specifically in the gamers with a high level of engagement.

2. Methodology
2.1 Sample and data collection procedure

In order to select a correct sample we decided to focus our research on a concrete target: expert gamers with a huge knowledge of the game mechanics. We were able to find those gamers developing an incidental sampling during December of 2016. The sample was created analysing three different communities of gamers:

  1. Twitter groups (Officials and non-officials) in every Spanish region with more participants.

  2. Telegram groups devoted to the game with more activity in each region

  3. Facebook groups (non-officials) in every Spanish region.

Every chosen participant posted, at least, three notifications about the game in his/her personal space during two weeks. Those messages included information about the game (news, patches, quizzes…) and comments about the mechanics of Pokémon go!

Finally, we chose 332 subjects who fulfilled the selection process and accepted to take part in the research. We created an on-line formulary, registered and treated by the SPSS 24 software.

2.2 Data collection tool

Our research works as a sociometric experiment – “based on a significant activity for the subjects” (Gaitán Moya & Piñuel Raigada, 2010: 207). That guided us to create a questionnaire with close questions, so we could guarantee good levels of univocally, pertinence and relevance. We took in account several designs applied to new technologies and education educación (López Gómez, García García, & García Guardia, 2012; Pérez-Escoda, Castro-Zubizarreta, & Fandos Igado, 2016). In the first place, we create a validation phase (Alvira, 2011),  with the collaboration of ten academics (four from Media studies, four from the video game design, two of methodologies in communication) from four Spanish universities (two state universities and two private universities). They were asked to give us feedback, and afterwards, they helped us in reaching the whole sample of gamers. At the same time, we made a public presentation of the tool in a specific congress during February of 2017.

The tool is divided in three different blocks (Table 1). They were designed with different variables connected with the objectives of the investigation that we had mentioned before.

Table 01. Measured variables. Areas of interest and items

Area

Item

1. Profile of the Pokémon Go! Gamer

01. Educational level

02. Gender

03. Hours of game per week

II. Relevance of the narratological level of the game

01. Relation with the previous animes of Pokémon.

02. Relation with the previous videogames of Pokémon

03. Perception of the lack of inner narrativity in Pokémon go!

III. Perception of the gameplay and the lack of interaction with other gamers

01. Perception of the objectives

02. Perception of the challenges

03. Perception of the issues in the gameplay

04. Perception of the bonuses of the game.

The first block (connected with the Objective 1) allow us to create a brief identification inside the sample of two basic and classic quantitative characteristics: the level of the education and the gender of the gamer. Those two indicators will help us later to develop concrete statistic tests. At the same time, the third item will help us to understand the main causes in the dropout of the game for the most experienced gamers. We will use it to clarify the results on the Objective 4.

In the second block, we will focus on the argumentation between narratology and ludology, as it was explained on the introduction of the paper. It´s connected with the objective 2. We have worked with high-skilled gamers, with a long experience and a great engagement for the game, so we think that this block is going to be relevant in order to understand their previous experience with the Pokémon universe (Lahti, 2016). We have divided the information between two previous collections of texts: in the first place, the original animes (series and animation movies) (Bainbridge, 2014; Geraghty, 2015) on the Item II.01. In the second place, other games and other resources connected with the transmedia experience (Bainbridge, 2014; Geraghty, 2015) on the Item II.02. Finally, on the Item II.03 we try to explore if the experience of the game was less interesting for the lack of concrete narratological plots.

In the third block, we will focus our attention on the game mechanics to understand the relations between objectives, challenges, bonuses and deficiencies. Those four parameters will offer a map of the virtual universe that will help us, as we will see, to understand how the game play works. They will help us to understand the objectives 3 and 4.

The nature of the variables and the kind of data that they will offer, recommends a classical approach with the descriptive strategic tools.

3.1 Results
3.1 Gamers profile

The first block shown us that most of the gamers had higher studies. We made the measure of the information using a closed scale that covered since the undergraduate school to the postgraduate level. Our group (N=332, SD= 1,532) shown a higher concentration on current university degree students (F3=103, 31,0%), and on gamers with their postgraduate studies finished (F5=120, 36,1%). At the same time, we must consider that a lot of gamers were teenagers and pre-teenagers (F1= 73, 22%).

In addition, men dominate the gender of the gamer´s community. We can find a 75,3% of male gamers (N=250) and only a 24,7% of women (N=82). If we cross both items, the most interesting data shows that the higher concentration of women is located over the postgraduate rank (N=32, 39%), more than in the degree rank (N=23, 28%), and pointing a strong difference with the high school female gamers (N=1, 1,2%) and the elementary school female gamers (N=14, 17,1%).

About the habits during the game, we can find a high level of engagement. If we follow the statistic mode (N=101, 30,4%, SD=1,277), we find that most of the gamers play more than five hours each week. This is coherent with the selection of the sample, but at the same time, shows an interesting point: we are working with high skilled gamers –they spend a lot of time playing and discussing about the game on social networks-, but we can find also a high rate of people who dropout the game. 18,1% of the participants (F5=60) decided to quit the game after spending hours and hours playing. It´s a high rate of abandon: we can compare it with other gamers who only play a couple of hours each week (F2=69, 20,8%) or four hors each week (F3=65, 19,6%). It seems unusually high for the characteristics of the chosen sample. We will return to this indicator.

3.2. Narratological factors on the Pokémon Go! Experience

We tried to measure the relevance of the narratological elements of the games following a double strategy. In the first place, we evaluated the previous knowledge of the animation series and the motion pictures connected with the game (Item II.2). After that, we analyzed the previous knowledge of other games located in the Pokémon universe (Item II.2). The previous Pokémon games, by the way, showed a more complex and elaborated narrative construction.

In the first case, 75% of the participants (N=249) were followers of the series and the movies. In the second case, a higher number of the gamers (76%, N=251) were experienced gamers in other Pokémon games. If we cross both tables, we can see that there was a strong connection between the people who played the games AND followed the series (67,4%, N=223). At the same time, we found another strong relation of gamers without any previous experience of the Pokémon universe (16,6%, N=55). We can see the whole picture in the next table:

Table 02: Items II.01 and II.02 – Narratological experience of the skilled gamer of Pokémon Go!

 

Playing other games

Total

No

Following the series

Yes

N

223

26

249

% Following the series

89,6%

10,4%

100,0%

% Playing other games

89,2%

32,1%

75,2%

% of total

67,4%

7,9%

75,2%

No

N

27

55

82

% Following the series

32,9%

67,1%

100,0%

% Playing other games

10,8%

67,9%

24,8%

% of total

8,2%

16,6%

24,8%

Total

N

250

81

331

% Following the series

75,5%

24,5%

100,0%

% dentro de Jugar otros Pokémon

100,0%

100,0%

100,0%

% del total

75,5%

24,5%

100,0%

When we asked explicitly about the relevance that they gave to a concrete lineal plot in the game –or the absence of it (Item II.03)- we found very different results. 39,2% of the gamers (N=130) felt worried about the lack of narrative inside Pokémon go!, but the 60,8% (N=202) were not worried at all.

In any case, in a second phase, we have tried to apply a χ2 test without good results. There is not a clear correspondence between the first indicators (II.01 and II.02) and the third one (II.03). We can´t accept that the fans of the series (p<0.05 , χ2=0.37) nor the fans of previous videogames (p<0.05 , χ2=0.22) were detecting clearly the lack of narrative as a main problem of the game.

3.3. Perception of the game dynamics

The last block was organized around the perception about the role of each one as a gamer: the motivations, challenges, failures, bonuses… This is the complete result of the results obtained with our tool:

Tabla 03: Game Play Indicators

Area

Amount

N

Objectives
(SD=0,822)

Capture new pokemons

83,7

278

Fight against other rivals

8,4

28

Train in the gym

0,3

1

Evolve the pokemons

7,5

25

Challenges
(SD=0,88)

Find new pokemons

74,1

246

Rise the level of captured pokemons

9,9

33

Rise the level of the main character

10,5

35

Win new achievements

5,4

18

Problems of the game
(SD=2,013)

Gamers can´t exchange pokemons

28

93

Gamers can´t fight between themselves

18,1

60

The main character is not very customizable

2,1

7

It should be easier to find new pokemons

18,1

60

The fighting system is not very complex

12,3

41

There must be more kinds of Pokémons

17,5

58

There must be more kind of bonuses

3,9

13

More useful bonus
(SD=1,37)

Pokéballs ultra

10,2

34

Incense

5,4

18

Lucky egg

21,7

72

Lure modules

8,4

28

Incubators

54,2

180

In the   first place, we can see that objectives and challenges seem to work in a similar level –with a Standard Deviation inferior to 1 en both cases. At the same time, the concentration of the results point in both cases to the relevance of the capture of new pokemons (III.01 83,7%, N=278 and III.02 74,1% N=246) as the main interest in their experience of the game. About the main failures of the game, seems more difficult to trace a clear solution – there is a lot of dispersion inside the sample. We can suggest, in any case, that most of the gamers felt disappointed about aspects connected with the interaction between human participants (F1 28%, N=93 and F2 18,1% N=60) and with, again, the different options related to capture pokemons (F4 18,1%, N=60 y F6 17,5% , N=58). Finally, in the bonus field, we can trace a strong concentration in two concrete items: the lucky eggs (F3 21,7%, N=72)  – used, mainly, to rise the level of the main character- and the incubators (F5 54,2%, N=180)., used mainly to find pokemons who are in other geographical, distant zones.

4. Discussion and conclusions

After analyzing the data, we can now propose a deeper reading of the different aspects of our research. We will follow the objectives mentioned on the first part of our paper.

About the profile of the gamer (Objective I), we can detect a relevant amount of men over female players. That is aligned with other studies developed in our field (Aierbe-Barandiaran & Oregui-González, 2016; Chicharro Merayo, 2014), and shows the lack of equality in the habits of consumption (Coyne, Jensen, Smith, & Erickson, 2016; Ricoy & Ameneiros, 2016). At the same time, we are analyzing a game which is only available in mobile phones, so our research is coincident too with other studios who point to the preference of the young players for that kind of platforms (Bond, 2013; Madhuri, Olsen, Sigsgaard, & Kheifets, 2016).

About the second objective, connected with the narratological parameters, we can see that the gamer usually knows by heart the Pokémon universe. However, and we find this indicator truly relevant, all that experience was not really relevant in order to avoid the massive dropout of the game. After the failure of the χ2 test, we can propose that the gamers were not really interested in recover the Ash story, but in the contrary, the most interesting thing was the novelty related with the augmented reality applied to mobile phones. That would put in crisis the topic about the nostalgia as the main reason for playing the video game, making it slightly different to other “retro games” (Márquez, 2012; Planells, 2013).

The third objective points to the building of the game play. Now we can easily see that the main reason for keep on playing was the capture of new pokemons. That action was more interesting for the users that others such as fighting, training, raising the level of the characters or even getting some concrete bonuses. Obviously, that means that the useful life of the game is dramatically restricted for its own dynamics. Before the upgrade of December of 2016, the game only allowed the capture of 150 different kinds of elements, and most of them were connected with concrete geographical areas. The game promised a quick rotation of the creatures –the so-called nest rotation-, but it doesn´t seemed to work well. There is a huge gap between the most relevant mechanics –capture ones (III.01 and III.02)-, and the perception of the most relevant failures of the game –lack of new pokemons (III.03) and the items connected with that actions such as the incubators (III.04).

That is confirmed too by the forth objective of the research, focused on the main problems of the game and the factors connected with the massive dropout of it. We will focus now on the perceptions of the gamers that left the game. The result can be easily traced in the next table, built with the statistic mode:

Table 04: Game play indicators in connection with the gamers who left Pokémon Go!

Indicator

Statistic mode

Amount

N

Objective

F1: Find new Pokémons

75%

45

Challenge

F1: Find new Pokémons

86,7%

52

Problems in the design

F1: The players can´t exchange Pokémons

28,3%

17

Bonuses

F3: Incubators

33%

20

           
As we can see, the high concentration on the two first indicators shows clearly that the gamers were truly interested on the capture of new pokemons. They didn´t felt enough motivated to keep on playing.

Finally, we have tried to offer a complete and coherent picture of the ludofictional process around Pokémon Go! . We can conclude that is a simple game, easily enjoyable for people of all the ages due to the simplicity of the mechanics, but it fails when it comes to engage the gamers. The main problem seems situated on the secondary mechanics of the game –training and fighting, specifically-, and the absence of interaction between human beings. At the same time, we can see that the design of the bonuses and the items is clearly irrelevant.

Logically, our research will be completed and augmented with other studies on our field, including possible changes related with the updates of the app or maybe with the comparision with other games developed for mobile phones using augmented reality. In any case, we think that our methodological tool will help us in the future to evaluate, in a simple and ordained way, the ludological and narratological elements of the portable games, so we hope to go on working in the same line during the next years.

Este artículo ha sido posible gracias a la financiación del Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad para el subproyecto I+D “El sistema de investigación sobre prácticas sociales en Comunicación: mapa de proyectos, grupos, líneas, objetos de estudio y métodos” (CSO2013-47933-C4-4-P), y de la Universitat Jaume I en el marco del proyecto “La crisis de lo real: la representación documental e informativa en el entorno de la crisis financiera global” (P1·1A2014-05), ambos proyectos bajo la dirección de Javier Marzal Felici.

 

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How to cite this article in bibliographies / References

A Rodríguez Serrano, M Martín-Núñez, S Gil-Soldevila  (2017): “Ludologic design and augmented reality. The game experience in Pokémon Go! (Niantic, 2016)”. Revista Latina de Comunicación Social, 72, pp. 667 to 678.
http://www.revistalatinacs.org/072paper/1185/35en.html
 DOI: 10.4185/RLCS-2017-1185en

Article received on 18 on April 2017. Accepted on 17 June.
Published on 20 June 2017.

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