Digital POV: Pokémon GO

Pokémon GO has taken over the world. Reports from SimilarWeb emerged on Monday morning that the app had overtaken Tinder in Android app downloads and expected to overtake Twitter in daily active users. More surprisingly, released less than a week ago, users are spending more time in the game than on Snapchat, Instagram, and WhatsApp. Highly addictive, vigorously interactive, and fiercely nostalgic, Pokémon GO takes two key digital trends and marries them in to a game that is both changing behaviors and culture: Location (signaled via GPS) and Augmented Reality (by placing Pokémon in the world in front of you via your smartphone camera).

Details / Implications
Here is how you play. Go to physical locations and find Pokémon. Pokémon appear in an augmented reality (AR) format on smartphone screens, giving the appearance that the Eevee you've been chasing is actually in front of you. While the developers, Niantic Labs, actually created a similar-type of AR location-based gaming app called Ingress nearly three years ago under Google’s umbrella, it is the cultural phenomenon of Pokémon that is causing this game to get so wildly popular. Paired with the location-aware AR technology, Pokémon GO is fueling the Millennials who grew up playing and watching Pokémon to indulge in a real-life game of make-believe. Think this is an exaggeration? Take a step outside and you will spot dozens of people glued to their phone, furiously swiping to catch one of the Zubats that have infested New York, London, Sydney etc.

The game represents an interesting, if not exciting, moment where our culture is seeing the first true application of AR at scale. Naysayers of virtual and augmented reality have long said that the interest simply won't be there to play games with bulky equipment, expensive investments and complex interfaces. These are valid points and surely why most people haven't invested in the first wave of VR gear. The utility for the average Joe simply doesn't outweigh the cost - at least not yet. But the incredible popularity of Pokémon GO proves that AR will become ubiquitous in modern technology, especially and most specifically with existing cultural obsessions. Pokémon GO was built on the premise of a game that was released three years ago but the familiarity of the original 150 Pokémon is so beloved to this generation that we all want to ‘catch 'em all’. And, rather than using pricey and perhaps cumbersome equipment, the game leverages the ultimate and most accessible connected device, our smartphone.

So what’s next for this medium? The teasers of Microsoft Hololens' interface for Minecraft and Magic Leap's secret partnership with Lucas Films to bring R2D2 in to our homes have excited us for months. Though not yet released to the public, both will undoubtedly obsess the masses if and when they become accessible using a smartphone. 

Nintendo’s share price has increased by 50% since Pokémon GO was released (Nintendo is an investor in game creator Niantic Labs). This is due to Pokémon GO being the best example of the growing blurring of the virtual and real world that we have been hearing about for years. While Niantic predetermines PokéStops (places of interests that drop items like Pokéballs and medicine) and Gyms (places to strengthen your Pokémon by training and fighting), brands with brick-and-mortar locations can leverage rare nearby Pokémon or PokéStops to drive increased foot traffic. You can set up a ‘Lure Module’ in all locations, which coaxes Pokémon to a PokéStop for 30 minutes, to get customers to your store or restaurant. Then, offer rewards, incentives or even discounts for players. Travel brands can create content around “Best Pokémon I Caught On My Vacation.” Brands can even create lists of “Best Places to Catch Pokémon On Your Trip” by linking travel booking with a recommendation widget for a fun additional touchpoint for customers as they book trips.  Why not drive tourism to small towns with insights into where rare Pokémon are in unassuming towns? It’s all possible in an exciting new world of AR at scale.

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