Pokemon Go fot it!
Ordinarily, seeing a group of people bunched together peering at their smartphones instead of talking to one another could bring out the curmudgeon in a fella, but that changed this past July when Pokemon Go was released. The app, which was free to download, virtually exploded in popularity. Suddenly, scads of people-and not just kids-were strolling through the streets of their hometowns trying to track down Pokemon, those cute little cartoon critters that captured youngsters’ imaginations when they first appeared on Game Boy in the mid-’90s.
The difference between what those old handheld systems could do and what today’s smartphones are capable of is amazing in itself. In a way, though, it’s fitting that Pikachu, Jigglypuff, and Charmander are back in the palms of our hands.
The retro, 16-bit stylings of our childhood are cool, but Pokemon Go gave most people their first taste of something entirely new: “augmented reality.” That’s where the analog world we live in and the digital world we’re fast becoming blend together. Seriously.
Here’s how it works. After downloading the app, players set out on their quest for Pokemon by following a digital map. These Pokemon could, theoretically, be just about anywhere. When a player gets close to one, their smartphone camera pops on and-voila!-there’s a Pokemon right there on your screen standing next to a fountain, statue, or some other familiar local landmark.
The game mechanics are pretty straightforward, if you’re willing to suspend your disbelief. (And if you’ve read this far, we think you are!) Basically, you are a Trainer out searching for Pokemon, which you capture and use to fight other Trainers. Once you spot one of these wee beasties, you subdue it by tossing Pokeballs at it. Hint: Aim for the head. Once you’ve got a few, take them to a Pokegym to get their fighting skills up to snuff. Makes sense, right?
If you’re wondering who’d want to do that, the answer is: lots of people. In fact, there were roughly 15 million downloads of the app within a week of its release. That’s not surprising when you consider that Pokemon Go is just the latest entry in the Pokemon franchise, which includes anime, manga, trading cards, video games, and more, all of which have been wildly popular. In other words, Pokemon is a well-established brand with loyal fans, many of whom grew up with the game. Enter Niantic, a mobile app developer that grew out of Google. In 2012, Niantic released a game called Ingress, which has been described as an “augmented-reality massively multiplayer online location-based game.”
Essentially, before partnering with Nintendo to unleash Pokemon Go on the world, Niantic had a slightly similar game. Of course, adding Pokemon to the mix made the new game take off like wildfire. If it seems like Pokemon brought the lion’s share of cultural capital to this deal, that’s not quite right. Niantic added something tremendously valuable: about four years’ worth of data and input from people who’d played Ingress. In effect, what those players did was validate all the portals, hot spots-whatever you want to call them-where Blastoise and Mew are popping up in Pokemon Go.
The result of this corporate synergy is a $9 billion increase in Nintendo “market capitalization” and hordes of happy gamers trekking around their hometowns hunting for Pokemon.
What’s really great about Pokemon Go isn’t how much money the game may eventually make for its creators; it’s the fact that it gets people up off the couch and out of their houses where, thanks to the game, they may discover something new in their own backyards. True, at first so many people were trying to download Pokemon Go that servers sometimes slowed to a crawl. But you know what? The internet ain’t broken. Besides, we’ve got more important things to worry about, like Brexit and the upcoming U.S. presidential election.
So if you want a brief break from the daily grind-and who doesn’t?-we suggest you give Pokemon Go a try, just to see what all the fuss is about.