Pokemon first hit the scene in the mid 90’s and hit cult status through an animated television series, handheld gaming in the form of Gameboy and Nintendo DS, not to mention feature length films and collector cards games.
The show centred around legendary Pokemon trainer Ash Ketchum and his quest to become the ultimate Pokemon trainer. Ash and his companions travel to team gyms, catch and train Pokemon whilst avoiding Team Rocket. The Pokemon phrase ‘Gotta Catch’em All’, really was marketing genius as kids (or let’s face it; parents) forked out to collect the original 151 Pokemon characters. Pokemon characters are unique in the fact that they evolve into stronger versions of themselves (through training).
The pocket monsters kind of dropped off the scene for a while and were noticeably absent from the mobile App market, whilst Angry Birds, Candy Crush and Clash of Clans took over. Well, no more. Freshly launched last week, exclusively to New Zealand and Australia, before hitting the US, Pokemon Go the latest augmented reality (AR) game, from developer Niantic, has hit the scene.
The game utilizes your smartphones camera and Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) to place fictional Pokemon in the real world situations, effectively accessing Google maps and using real world locations as playable maps. Trainers use the App to locate, trap and train Pokemon for the purpose of battling rival trainers in Gym locations, which are allocated between three main teams Red(Valor), Yellow (Instinct) or Blue (Mystic).
The game rewards trainers for walking and stopping at ‘Pokestops’ to collect items to use in the Pokemon hunt. Some Pokemon can only be found in certain locations, so movement to various locations is essential.
In just over a week the game is set to have more active users than Twitter and has already been installed on 5% of all Android devices on limited release. It’s immediately had an financial effect on the Nintendo stock exchange with has since gone up $9 Billion dollars!
This is what a cultural phenomenon looks like, not only has the game generated immense buzz online, but we’re starting to see a unique sociocultural impact - gamers are now leaving the house to explore real world locations.
This had created a unique situation where people rock up to a location in their hundreds, reports are that 2000 people met last weekend at the Sydney Opera house to talk Pokemon and take on local gyms.
With any cultural phenomenon there are positive and negative outcomes. Buzzfeed published a story reporting that Pokemon Go is Helping People Deal with Mental Health Issues, or players reaching unique locations to capture gyms, but some online news outlets have reported traffic accidents, as players stop to capture rare Pokemon (the game requires that players are concentrating on their screens) or in some cases people have utilized the App to lure players into secluded areas and rob them (The game is effectively 24-7, so there’s nothing stopping players walking around at anytime of night or anywhere for that matter), meaning some house owners have also complained of people lurking outside their homes at all hours.
The game hasn’t been without it’s bugs; regular crashes and freezing, but with any new release, this is to be expected these days. There has been considerable demand on the servers and thousands of players access all of the Pokemon Go features. Also due to the massive demand on your smartphone (think of your camera, GPS, data and power all working overtime at the same time) battery life is short.
The game is freemium, but also has an online micro transactions system, thankfully these don’t seem to hand any large advantage to those who are willing to sink real world dollars into their Pokemon.
Given all of the above this doesn’t seem to hamper the enjoyment of thousands of users. Pokemon Go has managed to blend several elements successfully together to create a unique gaming experience that is fun, addictive, social and gets people out of the house.
What does the success of Pokemon Go mean for the future of AR development and content creation?
This is really the first mainstream AR game has gotten into the hands of users and this could open the floodgates in terms of things to come; interactive experiences are now in your hands, homes and accessible to anyone with a smartphone. Which is the major challenge facing Virtual Reality (VR) - the other major interactive experience on the verge of getting into consumer hands, users already have a device to experience AR, whereas VR experiences require an upfront investment on new specialist hardware: HTC Vive, Samsung VR or Occulus Rift, not to mention a PC capable of running the demand of these devices.
The other challenge facing new mediums of AR and VR is; how do content creators keep the user engaged or tell a story within such a flexible medium? Without engaging content the user won’t want to make an investment in expensive hardware to begin with. The catch 22 is that developers and content creators need the consumer to adopt the medium so there is a market for the content. These are the defining challenges for new interactive mediums, this is why the arrival of Pokemon GO is so important.
AR seems to have the advantage at the moment and opens the door to animation students to bring new interactive and entertaining experiences to consumers. Now that AR is here, will consumers settle for anything less than fully interactive media experiences?