The Pokémon Go Revolution: Augmented Reality Strikes Engagement Gold

Topics: Social, Web, Creative, User Experience, Digital, Branding

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Reading Time: 3 minutes

If over the weekend you found yourself driving, walking or observing the surroundings outside of your home for any amount of time then it’s likely you encountered an unusual number of wandering pedestrians, who in a kind of Thriller-esque resurrection, appeared at first glance to be retracing the path of a drunk teenager, faces lasered in on their phone screens.

By now it’s likely you’ve caught on to the catalyst for this strange phenomenon — Pokémon Go. The insanely popular app scored Nintendo an additional $7 billion in company value. It’s the water cooler topic of the year, and for good reason; it’s about to surpass Twitter for the number of daily active users, prompted major brands like Best Buy, Southwest Airlines, and McDonald’s to engage in conversation about the game on digital channels, and brought the concept of augmented reality to a mass consumer audience.

What should media professionals know about the game? How does it impact businesses, marketing strategy, and what does it say about the increasingly blurry line between our devices and reality?

How does it work? A basic rundown

Pokémon Go is a free app available on the iTunes and Android stores. It uses GPS to detect where and when you are in the game. As you move, Pokémon appear on the screen, and the object is to catch them. New Pokémon appear as players move around their environment, as well as Pokémon Gyms that allow players to train and battle others, and PokéStops, which are essentially “general stores” for the game. Pokémon Go also uses the phone’s camera and clock to integrate real-time conditions into the game experience. Accounts are free, although there are in-app purchase options.

Why is it so popular?

Great question, and one with a lot of different answers depending on whom you ask. The Pokémon phenomenon hit its peak during my elementary school years, and I imagine there’s a group of parents who invested large chunks of time and money on their kids’ Pokémon card collections now shaking their heads at its incredible comeback. That’s got a great deal to do with it — the generation that grew up collecting the cards and playing the game now has a bridge between their nostalgia and the real world. Pokémon has come to life, and are all around us. It’s one thing to play a game, it’s another to feel as if you’re living it.

Pokémon Go isn’t just a popular game. It’s immersive experience — the first augmented reality game to hit it big (AG isn’t anything new), and because of its success we’re not likely to see it go away anytime soon. In fact, Gizmodo called the game a “watershed technology.” While a great deal of journalists and analysts have commented the game is actually a poor example of AG’s capabilities, we know that quality isn’t the breakthrough factor — addictiveness, however, is.

I’m a business owner – how does it impact my storefront?

Urban areas are hotbeds of Pokémon Go foot traffic, and because Pokémon Go has development roots in Field Trip, users are more likely to find Pokémon, Pokémon Gyms, and PokéStops near museums or historical landmarks. Businesses near, or on, those points have an opportunity to embrace the phenomenon and its accompanying potential customers. There are fantastic suggestions in this Forbes article, including using PokéStops at your business location as social media content, creating themed dishes or specials for Pokémon hunters coming around, offering deals, or use the purchasable “Lure Module” which attracts Pokémon to a particular PokéStop for 30 minutes to draw extra attention during events or slow days.

I agree that the worst thing you can do is turn away the potential for new customers. Aside from possible revenue loss, you’ll probably end up looking like an angry “get off my lawn” Luddite. And with the insane amount of chatter taking place around the game, you could risk building a negative reputation.

There is something to be said for a game that, despite faults and naysayers, has managed to overtake the Internet in a week’s time and is arguably getting technology-addicted individuals out into the surrounding world as a result.

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