The Pokémon Go Phenomenon

Is Augmented Reality gaming here to stay?
By Ben Jackson   September 21, 2016 11:59 am GMT-0700


If you haven’t heard about Pokémon Go by now, then you’re probably living “off the grid” and have no time for such trivial endeavors. At this point Pokémon Go has become a staple in society; for some people you could argue it’s a way of life. It’s nearly impossible for someone not to have at least heard about Pokemon Go. Niantic has launched one of the most popular things to ever hit smartphones, all centered around live GPS, augmented reality, and Pokemon.


The Pokémon Go Effect

You’ll likely get a wide range of responses if you ask someone how they feel about it. Teenagers, young adults and even many in the aging population think it’s the greatest thing ever. Others will argue it’s the ultimate form of mindless distraction, which is hard to even argue. Nervous Nancy’s will remind you about the dangers inherently linked to a game that requires people to travel to different locations. People have even driven off cliffs trying to catch Pokemon, not to mention the growing list of traffic accidents tied to people playing while driving. If you think texting and driving is dangerous, Pokemon Go takes distracted driving to another level altogether. Conspiracy theorists will even tell you that it’s a government-sponsored app to track people’s locations and habits.  The game is even banned in some places due to safety concerns, and many governments have shown concerns over this game.

In July 2016, Pokémon Go was released for iOS and Android in select countries. As one would have guessed based on the success of Pokemon Nintendo games, the app immediately became a worldwide sensation. If you haven’t tried playing and even the thought of Pokemon Go disgusts you, try playing it for a week. You’ll quickly realize that the unique gameplay and use of built-in GPS is kind of addicting. For the time being, it’s the most popular game in the world, with over 100 million downloads in a relatively short period of time since release.

The main reason of its popularity is the fact that it uses location-based augmented reality and promotes physical activity. It’s almost impressive how much this game promotes and even requires physical activity, in somewhat of a sneaky way. People who typically don’t leave the house on the weekends might even be encouraged to get outside and walk around. Is it a good thing that the notion of catching more Pokemon is the only reason people are getting outside? Probably not, but let’s consider it a public health victory regardless.

What’s not to like?

Despite becoming a social sensation and a ridiculous growth rate, Pokémon Go isn’t without its share of considerable risk. Some are obvious – car accidents, accidentally trespassing, draining your phone’s battery and consuming mass amounts of data, etc.

Others aren’t so obvious, like – time wasted driving around aimlessly, ignoring more important life responsibilities, ignoring real people around you.. just to name a few. What parent in their right mind would want their kid wandering around the streets eagerly searching for virtual creatures while paying little (if any) attention to their surroundings?  This is THE biggest concern of many critics of Pokémon GO; several accidents and a handful of tragic deaths have only solidified their justifiable concern.

Pokémon Go is banned in many countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Thailand, Indonesia and India just to name a few. The main reason the game has been banned stems from security issues and people wandering around sensitive places. Many Muslim leaders condemned the game, issuing Fatwa against it — saying it is a form of gambling, asking their followers to stay away from it.

Regardless of a few underlying technical issues, criticism from some social groups and a couple of lawsuits against it, Pokémon Go is a staple of society, and continues to grow. It’s undoubtedly the most talked about game in recent history. An enormous user base has created opportunities for the developers to implement unique advertising campaigns. John Hanke, CEO of Niantic, said that they are intending to use sponsored locations as means of advertising in the game. What that means is that businesses will have the opportunity to attract more Pokémon Go players towards their places by making their locations featured “Pokestops” or even “Gyms” within the game, which you can imagine for a restaurant would likely increase sales. At the moment, the game does offer in-app purchases for special items, Pokeballs and other various add-ons.

The success of Pokémon Go has started a new debate in game development communites, about the future prospects of augmented reality (known more simply as “AR”). Pokémon Go is not the first game using augmented reality. There are definitely others, as well but they didn’t become as successful as Pokémon Go – mainly because of the plot, characters, and the history of the Pokemon Nintendo game that preceded the Pokemon Go app. Field Trip, Ingress (from same developers as Pokémon Go) and Geocoaching represent just a few other AR games in what is sure to become a crowded marketplace. Considering the outrageous popularity and success of Pokémon Go, there will definitely be more games leveraging built-in GPS and augmented reality. Of course, there’s room for improvement in the game itself, like adding feature interaction with friends. You can be sure Niantic is going to feed the cash cow — offering more enhancements and increasing the interaction between the real world and those playing the game.

What is the future of AR games? It’s a tricky question. and right now it depends on how well developers can utilize it. One thing we’re fairly certain of though; augmented reality did not make this game popular, in fact, it’s the other way around. Future technological advancement and the proper execution of ideas using AR will decide the future of augmented reality. But one thing we can be sure of – it’s here to stay.

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