Pokémon Go is a Game-Changer, and Why We've #GottaCatchThemAll
In the span of two weeks, Pokémon Go! has topped Twitter's daily users, and people are spending more time playing the game than browsing Facebook. Hitting the world by storm, Pokémon Go is setting a new standard for gaming and social connectivity for players of all ages and skill levels. It is the fun of geo-caching, without the stress of having to give anything away.
Pokémon Go is a spin-off app game based on the hit Pokémon television series--following the former popularity of the deck-building card game. The premise is simple: players battle the creatures ("pocket monsters") by rolling red pokéballs to capture them as they try to become the greatest Pokémon trainer in the world.
Let's talk about what makes this game particularly note-worthy:
1.) The renewed novelty and appeal of augmented reality.
Many of us have no doubt scanned our faces to explore Snapchat's filters, and theme parks & museums have been using augmented reality (AR) apps, like Aurasma, to jazz up special events and exhibits, respectively.
Yet, AR technology and holograms have been repeatedly diminished to the allure of virtual reality. The "wow" factor of virtual reality largely stems from the more immersive experiences ("you feel like you're there") provided by elaborate (and often expensive) wearable headsets like Oculus Rift, Microsoft HoloLens, Samsung Gear or its more affordable counterpart, Google Cardboard.
In stark contrast to the bulk of these wearables, augmented reality experiences, like Pokémon Go, are taking place on pocket-sized devices that the majority of us already own and carry.
Augmented reality brilliantly overlays digital imagery over real-time, real-world imagery. And thanks to the compelling Pokémon Go narrative of capturing digital monsters in our world, this technology hasn't arrived in a big way. Until now. Who doesn't want to save their home from an attacking Pokémon? Or their co-worker from impending doom in an elevator? These stories are numerous, but for casual players and onlookers-in-the-know, laughs are sure to follow. (Personally, I like to use the slider in the top right corner of the game to toggle AR "off" and "on" depending on my phone's battery or where I'm playing.)
I've heard cries from younger gamers that Pokémon Go doesn't work on devices without a gyroscope--which is not found on "cheaper" or basic phones. While Wi-Fi-only devices can play Pokémon Go, this is a frustrating option, because you'll only be able to play it in Wi-Fi hotspots. This is not ideal for a highly location-based game that requires walking; an LTE data connection is recommended. This emerging need to own a smartphone with an LTE data connection is likely music to the ears of major phone carriers.
2.) Bringing video games into the real world.
This game is bringing people together in new ways. PokéStops and "gyms" are the new go-to 24/7 destinations mapped at conveniently familiar landmarks such as public parks, libraries, transit stops, historic monuments, churches, restaurants and other local retailers.
Upon physically arriving at any PokéStop, players use the app to spin a photo disc and pop the bubbles that drop down to virtually collect more PokéBalls (a minimum of 3 balls, essential for capturing more Pokémon), experience points, and find special items such as eggs.
Players with Level 5 or higher can visit "gyms" to meet and battle fellow players, and/or turnover a gym to one of three teams: Team Mystic (allegedly the largest, most popular), Team Instinct, and Team Valor. Once players start leveling up, creatures and the items available to them at Pokéstops get more special.
3.) Dare I say it, but we are in a new Pokéconomy.
The ease of entry is high for this free game available in the Apple App Store or Google Play Store--all you really need is a smartphone with a data plan for this new augmented reality experience.
For those who choose to play, PokéCoins are the in-game currency that that will unlock special items within the game, which can be collected without a credit card/real money (see above). Lure modules are helpful for attracting extra Pokémon creatures that any local players can see and catch for 30 minutes; these spots are indicated on the map with a festive pink confetti floating around the PokéStop icon. Nevertheless, for those with the combined financial means and lack of patience, it is also possible to buy PokéCoins, starting as low as $0.99 for three PokéBalls, or $9.99 for a lure.
Local restaurants have already started serving deals to members of specific Pokémon Go teams (e.g., 10% discount for Team Mystic), partly in jest, and it's only a matter of time before larger corporate sponsorships will shore up special Pokéstops or gyms to lure players and potential customers. There is also a movement for generous players to drop lures near children's hospitals, for those who cannot walk around to be able to join the fun of capturing Pokémon.
The widespread adoption and comfort with augmented reality will inevitably have implications for the way we shop in the future. Lowe's Innovation Labs' Holoroom is already merging several visualization technologies via virtual reality and augmented reality to help shoppers to identify home improvement and design solutions for their home. Instead of imagining how big something is, shoppers can overlay the 3D item into their real-world environment, to make anywhere the new showroom.
In the future, shoppers could perhaps even interact/engage with products through the app as they would in reality, to get a better feel for the product before they buy something. In this way, these visualization technologies could be especially helpful for easing customers' mindsets to make big-ticket decisions or to try something new.
Also, since this game overrides traditional players' demographics, for market research purposes, there may be an opportunity to offer PokéCoins in exchange for opinions.
Do I think this is the best game ever made? No. And who knows how long this craze will last. But starting from the summer of 2016, Pokémon Go is seamlessly merging the digital world with reality, engaging the hearts and imaginations of the both new and experienced gamers the world over, and for that, it is to be applauded.
At time of publication, I am approaching level 12, my biggest Pokémon is under 500 CP, and I love using lucky eggs. I stopped playing to write this article in my free time, and admittedly, my colleagues have more put many more hours and miles/kilometers on their Pokémon Go games--and I thank them for their input and support.