By now, everyone has surely heard of Pokémon Go. It’s been on the local evening news, the national news and is plastered all over websites that strive to be relevant in the 24 hours news cycle. Nintendo’s parteners The Pokemon Company and Niantic have released a killer app that has been an incredible success, pushing Nintendo’s stock up to unprecedented levels. So what made it such a success?
Pokémon is a franchise that has been around since 1995 and is still going strong today, with more than 50 games and 19 films. Not many properties can boast a history like that. Pokémon Go reaps what the Wii sowed, gamifying exercise and creating social situations that bring people together behind a common game. Go’s appeal expands across generations, across races, across everything—its demographic is literally everyone with a smart phone. Heavy nostalgia paired with cutting edge technology has created the first Augmented Reality experience with mass appeal.
Go is also a game that creates situations for discovery. In the game, real-world points of interest are stops that players are encouraged to visit for in-game items. This aspect of the game comes from developer Niantic’s previous experience with its game Ingress, which took real world landmarks and laid a virtual world over the top using Google Maps to help create an interactive virtual game based in reality. Understanding this infrastructure helps understand why Go is able to get players out in the real world to explore (OK, hunt)—helping people discover things about the city in which they live by chasing imaginary monsters with their phones.
To give you an idea of how it plays out in the real world, a coworker and I decided to walk from our offices (which happens to include a Pokestop in a sculpture out front) down the street to a Mexican food restaurant for lunch (which happens to be a Pokémon Gym). My coworker was able to take control of the gym by battling other Pokémon there. While we stuffed our faces with chips and salsa, through the restaurant windows we noticed people slowing driving by, all playing the game. We took the long way back to the office in the hopes of some rare opportunities and happened across another player making the trek to the local gym to take it back. Turns out he was the previous champion. (For the record, I got a Magikarp on our journey).
These kind of social interactions have gone viral, with players posting pictures of meeting up with new unlikely friends, huge hundred-person meetups and an almost laughable “epidemic” of sore legs. Nintendo has figured out a way to create a real world MMO, with the game fostering the same kind of social interactions that have become the norm in games like World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV—that is finding like-minded people to group up with for a common goal. Where once social interaction was something that was taken online and done primarily over software or through chat channels, Pokémon Go has managed to return it back out into the world.
It could also be argued that part of what has made this app such a success is that as opposed to fitness apps and hardware that track our personal metrics with the only goal in mind being self-improvement, Pokémon Go’s goal is to have fun. You just might have to work a little to have that fun by traveling great distances in your quest to be the best.