I have kids in elementary and middle school, so I’m familiar with the whole Pokémon thing. There are games, cartoons, toys, and countless other items available from this licensing behemoth that had been primarily targeted towards kids. Pokémon GO, an app available for iOS or Android, hit the US market on Juiy 6, 2016, with other markets coming online worldwide.
I first became aware of the Pokémon GO game while on a vacation driving across the US. We were camping and with limited cell reception, we were blissfully unaware of the phenomenon sweeping the nation. It was only when we reached Las Vegas that I started seeing the articles in my Facebook feed from various news outlets. While an app has certainly generated enough buzz to warrant such coverage from the mainstream media, for some silly kids’ game to get this kind of coverage seemed a little bizarre.
Pokémon GO is an augmented reality (AR) game, meaning it uses your location and surroundings as you play. Utilizing GPS, you can see your location on a map, like you would on a typical GPS, as you move around in the game. The phone’s camera can be used to display your surroundings while you catch the Pokémon in the game. When you take a look at the company behind the game, you can see why they were able to launch Pokémon GO so successfully.
Niantic was founded by John Hanke, who previously worked for Google. Google had purchased his previous company, Keyhole, in 2004 and renamed that platform Google Earth. It is safe to say that Niantic knows their way around GPS, mapping, and augmented reality. Making a game that utilizes this tech seems fun, but no one expected the explosion of popularity this free-to-play game experienced.
Since Pokémon GO launched, it was downloaded over 10 million times in the first week. By July 12 it crushed Candy Crush Saga’s record with over 21 million active users. To date, over 100 million people worldwide have downloaded the game on their iOS or Android device. As of August 12, the game’s in-app purchases have yielded $268 million in revenue from just the US, UK, and German markets. A Pokémon GO fever epidemic has taken the globe.
Of course, there’s controversy: privacy issues with Pokémon GO accessing the camera and location data from your phone, PokéStops and Gyms in locations like the Hiroshima Memorial and Holocaust Museum and Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, people getting injured while playing the game and not watching their surroundings. To try to address these concerns, Niantic has removed questionable locations per their requests and updated the app to include warnings to try to deter people from acting stupidly. Regarding privacy, we all know that train left the station a while ago.
Most remarkable to me about this phenomenon is how it has brought people outside to public spaces like parks, museums, morals, and other points of interest that they might not have even know existed. On any given evening this summer, you could find droves of people walking around, looking at their phones, catching Pokémon, visiting PokéStops, and battling at Gyms. As I traveled across the US on vacation, I witnessed a cross section of many demographics playing Pokémon GO: males and females of all ages, races, and nationalities, going outside to play a game on their phone. While they played, they also communicated, and you saw folks chatting. A device that typically helps to alienate people from real social interaction is doing the opposite thanks to a simple game.
Niantic has magic in the bottle and I can’t wait to see how long the magic lasts. The catchphrase, “gotta catch ‘em all,” might very well be Niantic’s motto for Pokémon GO user adoption. I’m sure interest will subside after a short while, but Pokémon GO has changed the world, whether you like it or not.