Pokémon and the future of location based technology.
Let’s talk about Pokemon Go. Unless you’ve been on a digital detox for the past month you should be aware of the phenomenon which is Pokemon Go. Pokemon Go is a game that uses GPS location and Augmented Reality (AR) to create a “treasure hunt” type game where users have to collect Pokemon in the real world. You may have noticed a lot of young people wandering around like post-apocalyptic zombies, staring at their phones looking for virtual monsters.
Whilst AR teaser hunts are nothing new – we’ve produced several over the years for a variety of clients – using the Pokemon IP was a brilliant brainwave which fits perfectly with the Gotta Catch Em all mantra. Pokemon is built by Niantic, who released an amazing GPS AR Treasure Hunt game called Ingress a few years ago. Pokemon Go is built on the same platform and created many of the locations that are in Pokemon Go.
Many of the zombies will have been Pokemon fans when they were younger. Pokemon was already a massive phenomenon before discovering AR. This audience is now embracing the Pokemon cult with fresh vigour as it has been reinvented for the Millennial audience. As well as satisfying this audience, it’s also creating a new audience of young Zombies to join the cult of Pokemon. AR and Pokemon are the perfect match.
Being a veteran of the digital industry, I have been asked more than a few times what I personally think about Pokemon Go and whether it is a good thing.
Before I can answer this let me tell you a story about a friend of mine… To allow him to be anonymous let’s call him Paul. Paul is a geek and a massive gamer. He has spent most of his life working in technology and playing games. He is very pale and does not get out much and he really could do with some Vitamin D. He is an amazing game player and has a big social life in the virtual world. I don’t really see him much anymore as I live mainly in the real world. A couple of years back I was taking a walk in the countryside with my partner and I suddenly spotted Paul walking up a big hill; I had to take a second glance to make sure it was him. Amazingly it was; I asked him what had made him leave the house, he answered with one word… “Ingress”.
Ingress sets the stage where users have to choose their side between “The Enlightened” and the “The Resistance’ to find out what the Mysterious Energy (Exotic Matter) is that has been baffling scientists for years. The game allow you to play with teams across the world, capture territory to advance your chosen cause. It encourages co-operation across neighbourhoods, cities and countries.
Ingress has a big following but it is fair to say that it was a niche audience. What was amazing to me is that it managed to change behaviour and get Vitamin D deficient geeks like Paul out of the house and socialising with other like minded people. Gaming has suddenly left the confines of the house and gone into the real world.
A game had changed behaviour of thousands of hardcore gamers around the world. Suddenly they were exercising, getting outside and playing together.
For those who know me and Matmi’s background this is a major point. Matmi have been pushing real world gamification for many years and have used location as a major part of many of our campaigns. We are probably one of the first to gamify AR. AR on its own can get boring quickly, it needs a purpose. We’ve incorporated AR treasure hunts in physical locations for many clients including Alton Towers. Matmi does not believe in replacing the real world activities with identical digital ones because we can; we’ve always believed in making the real world better by enhancing it with technology, driving narratives, allowing competition and creating play.
Ingress was fairly successful but nothing compared to the millions of people who have been playing Pokemon Go. At one point it was reported that it had more traffic than Twitter.
However it is not just kids that are into Pokemon Go. Recently I spotted a dad with his 4 year old walking down the road staring at their phone. The dad informed me that they were monster hunting. On further enquiry it seems that the dad was enjoying the game more than his kid. So what makes grown men play a game that is aimed at kids. I think part of it is its novelty and the fact of collection. People love collecting stuff and getting access to stuff that others cannot get. Many dads who have really young kids will be secretly playing against each other. It gives them a good reason to get out of the house and spend some time with their kids. For the kids it adds another level of adventure outside. All of a sudden going out for a walk is driven by a narrative and has purpose. This is reflected in other niches such as Geocaching which is amazingly popular to a wide demographic.
I keep spotting groups of teens in obscure places (like historical landmarks) all huddled together looking at their phones. There seems to be more kids outside than I’ve seen for years.
So the good points are that kids are not stuck to a screen inside, they are now enhancing the real world with a screen. With the use of audio, the screen only needs to be used as a peripheral input device. Narrative is also driven by audio. Many kids are switching their virtual friends to real friends and playing together (something which Nintendo understand well) outside. The game is changing behaviour and giving kids something to do together.
When I was young we used our imaginations and created our own games and adventures outside. We built dens, broke into abandoned sweet factories, set things on fire. Maybe that was just me…
Retail businesses near the monsters are reporting an increase in business as hunters are turning into customers, McDonalds has done a deal with Niantic in Tokyo where you can train your monsters in a virtual gym (oh the irony). This will obviously increase their footfall.
So how successful has it been?
Well, it’s been downloaded over 75 million times, over 10% of android users have played the game, it’s already amassed over $35million in revenue already.
It was reported that it was more popular than Tinder, Twitter etc.
It added $7 billion to Nintendo’s share price before investors realised that they did not make the game.
So it has been a major success so far but it seems that there is a lot of drop off from the initial hype.
Although most of the initial reports have been positive, there have been some issues.
If the US press is to be believed, then a 15 year old has died through trespassing whilst looking for monsters, and there has been pushback from sensitive locations such as the Holocaust museum and cemeteries etc (who don’t want load of zombies looking for monsters).
Niantic was founded inside Google in 2010 by John Hanke, whose previous company was Keyhole; they brought us the amazing product Google Earth. It’s reported that Keyhole was originally funded by the CIA venture capital firm IN-Q-TEL. I guess the CIA connection makes me a little nervous but maybe I should take off my foil hat….
So I have a problem with the data issues presented by Pokemon. For those who’ve given the app full permission to your Google account, the app has frightening data and privacy implications.
The app knows where you or your child are, where they’ve been, who they are connected with, how long it takes you to travel between areas. It has access to your photos, files, contacts and this information will probably be used for commercial reasons, but how safe is the data? What happens if the data gets into the wrong hands? Reports that thieves are waiting around certain spots where the monsters are placed in order to mug the zombies are worrying.
With the power of Pokemon Go it would possible for Google to 3D map everything users see when they use the app. Using this technology Google could map the whole world, inside and out.
What does the future hold for location based apps?
Since the Pokemon cult has started, enquiries for AR based treasure hunts have obviously increased substantially. VR was the golden boy but has issues that I’ve previously discussed, it’s too immersive, the body and mind are out of sync and I believe that it will never be mainstream. However, AR and MR (mixed reality) in conjunction with location, will deliver immersive experiences that will change the way we work, live and play.
Hololens by Microsoft is an amazing piece of hardware that incorporates glasses that allow users to see AR. If you think Pokemon Go is big, wait until Minecraft releases its location based game via Hololens or MR.
Intel have brought out their Mixed Reality project Alloy, which promises to give the opportunity to merge the physical and virtual world together but more on the VR side. With this and their Real-sense motion cameras this is one to watch.
For those on a budget, Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear VR can offer some amazing Mixed reality experiences. Google also have Project Tango which allows you phone to see virtual objects augmented into the real world using your Android phone. From what we have seen so far this looks amazing.
Apple might pull a rabbit out of the hat with the new iPhone 7 (they certainly need to). We have noticed that the new model has two lenses in the camera, whilst this could be just to improve light levels we are hoping that it hints at something a lot bigger. You may remember that Apple bought PrimeSense (the maker of Kinect) and Metaio (the Augmented Reality platform) a while back. We are hoping that this leads to something magical from Apple.
So it seems that the latest hardware and software is gearing up for the next revolution that is going to be all about location. The future of digital is when it blends seamlessly into the physical world, enhancing it and delivering new experiences that will change the way we work and play forever.
We’re currently playing with VR / MR solutions for a host of leisure clients including the Escape Rooms and we’ve been experimenting with alternative realities in the Matmi labs for a number of years. Our recent project for Galactica at Alton Towers also allowed visitors to scan content within the park, creating a virtual swirling portal on the physical ride thus blending the real and virtual worlds together.
We are excited about the future possibilities where location becomes the centre of our digital world, but we need to seriously address the issues with privacy and data.