At this very moment, you are surrounded by strange, magical creatures with incredible powers. You cannot see them—not yet. But the device in your pocket will grant you the ability to see the world like never before. I’m talking, of course, about the app Pokémon Go.
In early July, the world was forever changed with the release of the massively popular Pokémon Go app, available on Android and iPhone devices. In less than a week, the app was downloaded by 10.8% of all Android phone owners in the US, or 9.7 million people. On July 13, Pokémon Go surpassed Twitter and several other record-breaking apps in daily active users (a metric that measures the number of people who log into an app at least once per day).
With such a meteoric rise in just a few short weeks, Pokémon Go is destined to be a classic video game and will be remembered as a world-wide phenomon. The most amazing part is that the app wasn’t even available to the world-wide market during the time it broke these records. However, after several server issues and false-starts, the app is slowly expanding across the globe. As of this writing, the app is now available in 37 countries.
But despite all of these incredible stats and reports, you may still be wondering: Whatis Pokémon Go? Why is the app such a phenonom? And why should you care?
What is Pokémon Go?
Let’s start at the basics. Pokémon Go is a GPS-driven, augmented reality game in which you use your smartphone to catch magical creatures called Pokémon. If you were a kid in the late 1990s or had young kids during that time, you will well remember Pokémon’s success through the gaming console Game Boy and the subsequent animated TV series and card games.
The premise of the game is quite simple: You are a “Pokémon Trainer,” and your mission is to find and catch all Pokémon in existence. What makes Pokémon Go different from its Game Boy predecessor is that, in order to catch a Pokémon, you have to physically walk around your city to find them. This game isn’t for couch potatoes!
As you collect more and more Pokémon, your experience level increases and you, as a trainer, become more powerful and are granted access to additional features in the game. For instance, once you reach level five, you can battle your Pokémon against other trainers’ Pokémon at locations called “gyms.” These gyms are real places in the real world, usually familiar landmarks around a given city. Trainers can join teams and defend gyms to earn in-game money and prestige.
How Do You Play?
Augmented reality is defined as “a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world, thus providing a composite view.” Augmented reality is not a new technology—think of the first-down line that appears on your TV when you’re watching a football game—but it’s one that hasn’t yet been fully explored by a general audience. This technology enables the makers of Pokémon Go to superimpose graphics and video into the real world. Of course, the users can only interact with these graphics via their smartphone, but the technology gives users the sense that Pokémon are actually there, just a few feet in front of them.
When you come across a Pokémon, you try to catch it using a Poké Ball. Using your finger, you flick a Poké Ball at a Pokémon and, if you aim and flick correctly, the Poké Ball will capture the creature, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a Pokémon Master.
The game can be as simple as that: aim, flick, and capture. That simplicity may account for the game’s extreme popularity.
Why is Pokémon Go a Hit?
With nearly 15 million people playing, it’s hard to argue the game’s success. But why has it skyrocketed? Let’s break it down into three factors:
As I mentioned earlier, the game is extremely simple to play. True, there are some strategic elements involved, but if you choose, you can simply walk around, catch Pokémon, and have a blast.
Moreover, unlike its 1990s format, you don’t need to go out and spend hundreds of dollars on a device to play the game—because you already have! Unlike the Game Boy, the smartphone is a ubiquitous piece of technology that both kids and adults own. Therefore, Pokémon Go is made for everyone. Simply visit your phone’s app store, search for Pokémon Go, download it, and start playing! (Apple Store or Google Play)
Many of the people who grew up on Pokémon are now in their late twenties and early thirties, and these are the exact people running around the city trying to catch Pikachu and Pidgey, collecting potions and Poké Balls, and dueling gym defenders for their team’s glory.
Every generation feels nostalgia for its past, and the Millennials are no different. A cultural phenomenon of their past has reemerged into today’s latest technology, and the results are exactly as we’d expect.
One of the key hallmarks of the game is that it requires its users to get up and go (hence the name). You cannot play the game if you sit alone on your couch. You must step outside and explore.
With places like gyms or PokéStops located at landmarks, people are congregating in large groups to find rare Pokémon or collect items to enhance the game. Thus, these people are meeting up with friends and meeting new friends in return.
The game is being shared on social media as well, encouraging a viral spread of users who go on to share the game with their friends until Pokémon Go has caught fire through an entire social circle.
Pokémon Go is something to be experienced with others in the real world—not just over a headset like in most stationary console device games. And the social aspect will only continue to gain steam as the game rolls out new features, such as the ability to trade Pokémon and battle your friends.
Why Should You Care about Pokémon Go?
All this information is well and good, but I don’t blame you for asking the question: who cares? Many people are skeptical of the game, and a few are worried about its effects. Here are a few reasons why:
1. A Marketing Opportunity
Gyms and Pokéstops are mostly located at landmarks, but quite a few are appearing in the buildings of stores and businesses. For brick-and-mortar businesses, this game may be the digital marketing opportunity they’ve been waiting for.
Already, marketers are taking advantage. Businesses are providing discounts, specials, and other goodies to game users. Businesses are also using game items called “Lures,” which lure rare Pokémon to an establishment for 30 minutes—and lure plenty of foot traffic as well.
2. A Dangerous Activity?
So far, we’ve only covered the light and interesting parts to Pokémon Go. But it hasn’t all been fun and games.
Apparently, the game is so addictive—people want to catch those rare Pokémon sobadly—that people will risk their safety for success. Many people have begun searching for Pokémon while driving, and, as you can imagine, the results are not always pleasant, as this 28-year-old man who crashed into a tree can attest.
In response, the state of Tennessee has begun a road safety campaign to warn people about the dangers of Pokémon Go and driving.
Ready to Catch ‘em All?
Pokémon Go is less than a month old, so its impact is still hard to predict. Nevertheless, the game has caught the imaginations and interest of millions. As the game continues to spread across the globe, we should expect to see greater adoption rates. We’ll all need to keep our eyes open for its effects on the future of gaming—and for the occasional Pokémon.
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