The reality behind the digital – Pokemon Go redefines gaming (and culture)

More downloads than Tinder and about to surpass Twitter in terms of daily users; no this isn’t Snapchat’s latest surge, or a new social media channel (although it is, but not as you might think). This is Pokemon Go, the Nintendo-backed venture and a game-changer for video games, technology and perhaps most significantly, culture.

But before we dive into the why, here’s the what…

Pokemon Go is a location-based game where you explore the real world and capture Pokemon that appear on your smartphone; co-created by The Pokemon Company (part-owned by Nintendo) and software developers Niantic. Through the use of augmented reality (AR) these digital creatures can appear to live in the real world, via your phone’s screen. You catch them, train them and battle them for the control of the gyms in your area. These gyms are real-world landmarks such as statues, train stations, churches, pubs and more; even a man’s house. As with any smartphone game you either play it properly to earn in-game money, or spend real cash to get there quicker.

Pokemon Go Squirtle

All of this has really been achievable thanks to a combination of Google Maps and Niantic’s other major game Ingress. Without going into too much detail, at present Pokemon Go is largely a re-skinned Ingress with Pokemon elements added. However that ‘added’ bit is crucial. Ever since Pokemon first launched on the Game Boy 20 years ago, the brand has sold over 250 million games making it the second-biggest video game franchise after Mario. This matters, because Pokemon Go combined a franchise that appeals to gamers of all ages, bringing nostalgia to the fore, with the same basic principles offered by Ingress – real-world interactivity mixed with a franchise of epic proportions.

What makes the success of Go even more compelling is the varying stories intertwined behind it:

Nintendo’s aversion to mobile gaming

For a company that dominated handheld gaming for so long, Nintendo’s (apparent) aversion to the smartphone was baffling. The launch of the iPhone and its plethora of ‘pick up and play’ games offered far more to the casual gamer than Nintendo could. This demographic represents more potential and monetary value than the traditional, hardcore gamer. Yet, just over two months since Nintendo’s first mobile game launched, and a week since Pokemon Go, it’s top of the charts. More pertinently for Nintendo their market value has risen by an astonishing $7.5 billion. Incredible.

AR’s first killer app

AR is the combination of the digital world interacting with the real one. So far, the best AR examples have come from advertising; using the platform as a means to an end, to sell the product. Now, Pokemon Go is AR’s jumping off point. An already stellar video game franchise, mixed with evolving technology to create an immersive experience far beyond anything else on the market. One might argue it could even be the death of VR. Could an ‘escape’ into virtual reality, via a headset, really match up to something that fits so well into the real world?

Real-world, digital interaction

Stories from all over the world are cropping up about the conversations players are having as they play. From avoiding gazes, to simple nods to full-blown meet-ups and even playing in car parks (not like that!). Players are even trolling the Westboro Baptist Church with Clefairy’s renamed LoveIsLove. So far, this story from the States is my favourite. What else could you possibly be doing in a park at 3am? Pokemon Go obviously…

Pokemon Go story USA

A video game… that gets you outdoors

Weirdly, it’s also one of the best examples of encouraging kids to get out the house. Yes, a video game is making kids go exploring. I challenge you to name anything in the last 25 years as persuasive…? Different areas see the appearance of different Pokemon. The number of PokeStops and Gym locations can vary dramatically depending on the size of the village, town or city. And, much like it’s Game Boy equivalent, eggs only hatch after you’ve walked a certain number of kilometres; the minimum being 2km, the max 10km. Oh and you can’t cheat by driving. Nevertheless, friends and families are venturing out together; work colleagues are off exploring on their lunch breaks and a cultural revolution is happening. Just look at the scenes in this Australian park last week:

Credit: @gowithjake

All of this and yet the game has still not had a full worldwide release. Us Brits won’t see it officially for some time until the server issues are sorted. It’s only out in Australia, New Zealand and the USA. Not even Nintendo’s homeland Japan has it. Even more impressive, considering the huge uptake, is how much potential the game has. You can only catch, train and battle at gyms at present, as well as collect items. There’s no option to battle or trade with friends or nearby players.

Just wait until the rarer Pokemon (the legendaries) are released. As hinted in this promo ad, the true collaborative experience will come when the legendaries are released at special time-specific events in real-world locations. Travelling to Times Square to catch Mewtwo might be a stretch for me to explain to the wife, but plenty will make that journey, and plenty will report on it.

All for a game, but let’s face it, not just any game.

PS – this kid will go far…

pokemon-lures-entrepreneur

PPS – well-played…

Pokemon Go restaurant

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Dave

Dad to Zach, digital marketeer at Tank PR, Derby County fan, film buff, book worm and husband. In that order, but don't tell the wife.

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