This week marks one month since the release of the smash hit game Pokemon Go and some interesting trends, bound to impact even those of us who don’t play, are already emerging.
For those of unfamiliar with Pokemon Go, here’s the one minute overview. The game uses Augmented Reality or AR which, unlike virtual reality, superimposes digital information into a real environment. In a nutshell, the goal of the game is to capture all 150 “pocket monsters.” You do that by going to locations (called Poke Stops) designated on a smartphone map, aim your phone’s camera at the monster you see thru your lens, and then swipe a Poke Ball (you get 50 for free when you start) towards the monster to capture it. To make the game more interesting, you can find free tools at Poke Stops or buy tools to help you, such as Poke Balls, Lures (which last about 30 minutes and increase the number of creatures that appear), Eggs (which hatch into Pokemon when you walk between 1 and 6 miles), or Incense (which attracts Pokemon for 30 minutes). And you can battle for dominance at designated Gyms. The app itself is free, they make money when you buy things like Poke Balls for $1.
What’s also interesting is how the game has evolved. Remember, video games became popular with home based play stations back in the 1970s and 1980s. The original version of Pokemon, played on portable Game Boy device, became popular in 1998. The game was based on the creator’s childhood interest collecting bugs. Not only was it portable, but you could connect with other players by a cable. And it was a “casual game,” meaning you could put it down and pick it up later in the same place where you left off. But this new AR version, takes things to a whole new level.
When it first came out, there was a big deal about Pokemon Go safety. People were using it while they drove, not watching where they were walking, and such, and that’s still an issue, both physical safety and cybersecurity. A warning does pop up in the opening window.
The use of geolocation technology and the fact that the game physically brings you to new places can, and has, translated not only to potentially dangerous situations, but to players committing illegal trespass and endangering themselves and others by playing while walking or even driving. Some businesses are posting sign allowing access for only paying customers. And some places, the Holocaust Memorial in DC, for example, have asked the developer to not use their location as a game site.
Finally, the hackers are also going nuts over this game’s popularity. In fact, the there’s already been a fake Android version which can take over your device and steal information. That means it’s important to download the game only through Google’s official Play Store.
Flip side is the game is bringing people to new places or maybe helping folks learn something new about the places they’ve already been. And it’s getting people outside. In fact, to use the Egg feature, where you can hatch your own Pokemon, you need to walk between 2 and 10 miles.
One unexpected thing we’ve seen this past month is a surge in customer engagement, foot traffic and business at the locations included as Poke Stops. This uptick has been better for certain businesses, for example coffee shops, cheap food places and candy stores, than others, which makes sense when you think about the audience. But players report actually choosing where they’re going to eat, for example, based on a restaurant’s proximity to a Poke Stop. This, at a time when foot traffic is down by almost 10% from last year.
Businesses are already able to buy Lures to get players into their shops. For about $10 you can keep people coming to your business for hours. And the developer has indicated that it will be accepting sponsorships to make certain businesses or locations appear more prominently in the game. We may also see items, brand or even celebrities embedded into the game. This has the potential of really blurring the lines between the online versus bricks and mortar experiences. Perhaps we’ll eventually see AR being used to customize store signs and sales displays for each of us.
AR and VR, together, are expected to grow into an $80 billion industry by 2025. More technology coming. Microsoft working on AR headset called HoloLens. Others working on smart phone adds-ons of sensors and software. People reluctant to wear a computer on their face.
It’s not only for the big guys. Even though it’s not allowed, individual players have found a business selling their high Pokemon ranking, an estimated $1 billion industry. Other are offering to help novice players collect Pokemon for a fee.
And where there’s money there are lawyers. In fact Palm Beach County, we saw one of the first Pokemon Go lawsuits filed just last week. The suit, filed against the developer, was based on alleged deceptive, unfair, unconscionable trade practices under the Terms of Service Agreement, essentially claiming that, because it gives developer expansive rights to collect and use player data and the right to unilaterally alter or terminate the Agreement, it is an illusory and unenforceable contract.