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Pokémon GO: Bulbasaurs and Billions

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By: Cory Gray

It’s been a week since the release of Nintendo’s newest Pokémon game and it’s rapidly taking over parks, sidewalks, and millions of landmarks across the World. With more daily users than Twitter in the United States and aspiring Pokémasters taking to social media to share pictures of wild Pokémon, it is nearly impossible to have missed out on the craze. For those still out of the loop, a brief overview of the game can be found on Vox.

Nintendo wants to be the very best

With the hype surrounding Pokémon GO, it’s not surprising that Nintendo is raking in the dough with their latest installment. Although, I don’t think anyone expected Nintendo’s stock to raise a staggering 65% in just a week. An estimated $11 billion in value has been added to the company. That’s 9 zeros. In a week. I’ll let that sink in.

Big money video game releases are nothing new, but for a mobile-only game, the numbers are unmatched. The game has been downloaded an estimated 7.5 million times. More people are playing Pokémon GO than are using Tinder, Twitter, Instagram, and a tirade of other incredibly popular apps.

But not only are tons of people downloading the game, it turns out that they are using the app longer than any other on the market. Any application developer knows that getting people to use your app is the tough part. Pokémon GO players are using the app an average of 43 minutes and 23 seconds a day – 13 more minutes than the runner-up, WhatsApp, a popular messaging app.

This game is incredibly popular. But… why?

Pokémon GO is a very unique game but it’s definitely not the first of its kind. Niantic, the company that developed Pokémon GO in parter with Nintendo and Google, released Ingress in open beta in October 2013. Ingress is a similar augmented reality mobile game that is played in a similar fashion – users are tasked to collect resources and “control” certain locations. Ingress essentially laid the framework for the game itself, allowing Niantic’s developers to use a familiar technology as the backbone of the game.

The gameplay is fun. It’s really fun. On top of that, the game really only ends when you decide to put your phone down. There is always more items or Pokémon to collect.

But, let’s get real for a second…the main selling point of the game for most users is the nostalgic feel. Even booting up the game and hearing the chip-tone music is enough to bring you back to the days of trading Pokémon on the playground with a GameBoy and transfer cable.

The first installments of Pokémon were released in 1996 and Nintendo has continued to release new installments every few years. This makes Pokémon multi-generational. Kids and adults alike have grown up with these games, and with such a large target audience, it’s no surprise that Pokémon GO was a slam-dunk success.

The social implications

The introduction of augmented reality has really had some strange effects on society. News outlets have bombarded the internet with tons of funny, scary, inspirational, and sometimes downright weird stories and memes.

A man living in a renovated church in Massachusetts claims that his house is marked as a Pokémon Gym – a place where users can place their most powerful Pokémon to battle with others for control – and has had a constant stream of people walking by or even parking in front of his house to try and claim the gym for themselves.

A 19 year old girl in search of water Pokémon near a river in Wyoming stumbled across a dead body that probably would have gone unnoticed. Although a little shaken up, she added that this will not deter her from continuing to play the game.

Criminals are also using the game to lure unsuspecting victims into areas by placing special markers that spawn additional Pokémon in areas intended to ambush their victims.

Police departments around the country have urged users to put the game down while driving and also to be aware of their surroundings. There have also been isolated incidents of players entering police stations to either catch Pokémon or participate in gym battles. Officers urge people using the app to attempt to access these things from outside of police stations before coming inside.

Though, most importantly, Pokémon GO is getting adults and kids alike off of the couch and into the streets. Not only is it a great source of exercise but it’s connecting gamers of all ages, race, and gender. Anyone with a smart phone can download the game, for free, and start playing.

My experience

It’s one of those things that you don’t notice unless you really know what’s going on – but once you do, you can’t stop seeing it. People are walking around everywhere collecting Pokémon.

Embarrassingly enough, this game has changed small things in how I go about my day – either its a different route home to hopefully hit a Pokéstop or two at a stoplight, or where I choose to eat my lunch while taking a break from coding. Interestingly enough, this afternoon I decided to post up near two local Pokéstops while I was enjoying some grub. When I arrived, there was a group of teenage kids, a grab bag of races and genders, doing the exact same thing I was. I noticed a car pull up next to me out of the corner of my eye with two middle aged women in the driver and passenger seat. I honestly expected to see some kiddos jump out and use the Pokéstop. Nope. To my amazement, both women with phones in hand, grabbed their items and were on their way – a true testament to the reach of this game.

But will it last?

It’s no surprise that the surging stock value of Nintendo and popularity of the game is undoubtedly going to plateau at some point. As of right now the only question is when.

Niantic developers have teased certain new features they are working on, such as being able to trade Pokémon with friends, as well as being able to pit your Pokémon against one another.

Improved performance is also on the roadmap – battery life is currently a huge limiting factor for how long you can be out hunting and exploring.

With releases in Germany and the UK slated for later this week, there is no doubt the popularity of Pokémon GO will continue on the upslope.

So what does this all mean?

Here’s our takeaway…
We love our technology. It has firmly implanted itself in our daily lives. We want it, we need it. Our phones are an extension of ourselves. But, the cynics and nostalgics among us would argue that we’re losing our humanity along the way. This just might be one of the first steps towards a more active, technologically-focused culture. By disrupting the status quo of gaming and leveraging a tool (our phone) that is always with us, Nintendo has allowed us to further embrace technology in a more interactive manner, and in my opinion, challenged all of us to expand our thinking of how we can similarly leverage technology not only in this arena, but across all industries. The results seem to show that we are more than willing to interact with our environment and each other if the digital reward is worth it.

The challenge moving forward is to continue to harness this technology to improve the way we interact with things and each other. One thing you can bet on…based on the success of Pokémon GO, you’re going to see an explosion of augmented reality in the near future.

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