Yes, That Guy Is Playing Pokemon Go
Everywhere you look, people are walking around town, holding up their phones. They walk for a bit, then stop, They swipe up once or twice, then get a happy look on their faces. They walk along a little more, and do the same thing. In some places, people gather randomly to sit and hold up their phones, sometimes turning around, then swiping up, then smiling – or frowning – and smiling again. Nice times out of ten, that guy you just walked past is playing Pokemon Go. You overhear conversations about Zubats and Jigglypuffs and Meowths, You strike up a casual conversations with the server in the restaurant about how he caught over 50 by now, and he recommends going to to mall, its a great “attraction point”
Pokemon Go, in a matter of days (not weeks or months) will soon surpass the number of users of Twitter. It’s already surpassed the number of users of Tinder (leading some to say that its better than sex). I can see why – the game is really addicting. Niantic, with their deep experience of augmented reality play through their own title Ingress, hit a home run with this one.
I’ve played Ingress before, and it was interesting, but a little complicated. Pokemon Go is the near perfect blend of ingredients for a highly addictive game.
- It leverages the 20 year old Pokemon brand. Pokemon has been around long enough that Millennials and Gen Z have all grown up with it (and their parents) and they are all familiar with the base level concept – catch, train and fight these little “pocket monsters” that you find. The other games are set on other planets, but this one is set here
- It’s set right here – in the real world. While not really an augmented reality game (see points below) the fact that they set the places you can “catch” Pokemon at landmarks in the real world, drives players to actually go to those places in the world in order to capture Pokemon, get bonuses and power-ups, and battle in gyms. These virtual “pokestops” and “gyms” are strategically located some distance from one another, so you have to move to get to them. They’ve even tuned the movement algorithm so that the ideal transportation method to get from pokestop to pokestop is walking.
- The gameplay is simplicity itself. Swipe up to throw a pokeball, bonk the Pokemon on the head and with luck, you’ll catch it. Sometimes it takes a few tries and some finesse, but anyone can do it – its a very accessible game. I’ve seen so many people playing it, from kids, teens, college kids, to people in their 50s and up. Its easy enough to pick up and play – you don’t even really need to know anything about Pokemon and how to really catch, train and battle them in order to play. Even those who know nothing about Pokemon can play right away.
- It fakes augmented reality by appearing to place the Pokemon in the real world. When you encounter a Pokemon, it overlays it on your phones camera image, making it look like its in the real world. Of course, this immediately led to “Pokemon Porn” which people are catching Digletts over their private parts (once again proving that anything can become porn, and fast)
- They created “attraction points” at various landmarks, places near real landmarks which “attract” Pokemon – so you don’t have to walk all the time in order to capture new Pokemon, although the farther you travel the more interesting Pokemon you will capture. This had the interesting effect of driving players into locations where they all gather, silently staring at their phones – or talking to each other about the game. The game purposely attempts to move people around and help them to meet in person, thus facilitating discussion on the game. It creates in-person affinity crowds in these spaces.
Its a little eerie, walking around, seeing people all walking around the same way, noticing that they are all playing it, talking about it, helping each other out. Perfect strangers, pointing out where the Pikachu might be hiding around the corner.
Of course, there are a few detractors and hiccups: for a while there, there was a huge security hole (since patched) which opened up your entire Google life to Niantic, the game is so popular that the servers and the app crash a lot, some people complain that the gameplay is a little too simplistic, and that there is no training or trading and the battle system could be better, but I think that this is a very important moment for games like this.
- This game has the potential to bring us together as humans. Right now, its bringing us together, but not encouraging communications. Trading by connecting in person would be hugely interesting
- I’ve said before that augmented or mixed reality as some call it, will likely end up surpassing VR in general use. The potential in true AR gaming, and true AR experiences is so much more compelling
- It appeals to our curiosity. Many feel that they world is fully explored – that there is nothing new to see and do. As we layer a virtual, invisible world (or infinite numbers of virtual worlds) over the real world, suddenly the real world itself becomes more vibrant and interesting.
- Also proves that you don;t need a complex AR headset like the Hololens or the MetaGlasses in order to deliver a addictive, powerful experience.
I’ve always believed that if you could connect every human being in the world to every other human being in the world, that would go a long way towards world peace. Once anyone can freely communicate with anyone else (my interpretation of the true promise of the internet) then misinterpretation goes away. But just being connected is only one thing. What if we could all play together as well?
Time will tell if Pokemon Go is huge, ongoing hit, or just a quick burst of excitement. If they continue to leverage the experience to connect humans together, through chat and trading, then who knows, it may not be the internet that saves the world, but Pokemon.
Anyone imagine a future where our virtual Pokemon fight to the death in wars, as opposed to humans? Roddenberry may be right again (without the disintegration booths)