The craze that is not only sweeping the nation but also the globe is Pokémon Go. For the uninitiated this mobile application takes the popular card game to the next level. Players have to collect items from PokéStops (for example Pokéballs, Raspberries, Eggs), use Pokéballs to capture Pokémon (various types of fantasy animals with different combative powers and levels of rarity) and continue up levels by visiting Gyms and having battles with Gym bosses.
This is all staged in a map based world, with a simplified building and road render (source: Google Maps) that you navigate in real time. The view switches to an Augmented Reality world when you discover and subsequently try to catch a Pokémon.
On the first weekend of its availability in the UK I noticed some fairly significant shifts in behaviour. Whole families were out and about together, teenage kids in Pokégangs wandering the streets, a healthy alternative to being locked in their bedrooms. My kids, on a recent holiday, actually asked if they could get out and walk to the apartment rather than drive (it somehow can differentiate between driving and walking even when driving at low speeds).
There also appears to be a whole host of ‘secret’ Adult players – an underground movement who are claiming they are just playing for their kids but are quickly succumbing to the need to find more Pokémon! I sadly admit I am one of them. Ignorance means my activity is largely limited to visiting Pokéstops in order to collect stuff (this, as a parent is beneficial as it avoids the need to purchase items) but I live in fear of being outed as I wander the streets in order to help my children’s quest to upgrade to the next level.
I am sure everyone has heard about the horror stories and dangers – largely caused by reduced awareness of surroundings due to immersion in an augmented reality world. With the scale of people playing the game (upwards of 100 million people worldwide and growing) it will inevitably lead to negative stories – thefts of smartphones is up as kids are easy pickings, adults have been using whilst driving (latest version has pop up warnings about playing while driving), and people will trespass to try and catch those rare Pokémon.
The bigger issue in a work environment is the fact that, like social media such as Facebook, it is a distraction. Employers need to ensure their staff are aware of their policies on gaming/social media during work time.
Clearly Nintendo, Game Freak (lead developers) and Apple/Google (for taking a cut of App revenues) are benefiting from the in game purchases but there are a few others that will stand to gain, most notably:
- Online retailers (eg. Amazon) who sell battery packs. All this wandering around for hours drains smartphones like a thirsty child drains its milk.
- Mobile Phone Networks will be rubbing their hands with glee. Parents will be faced with hefty bills after exceeding their data usage and be under pressure to enhance their download quantity.
- Putting your place on the map – The source of data for Pokéstops was collected from a precursor game called Ingress and is largely driven by places of interest such as churches, monuments, museums, libraries etc. The future will be sponsored Pokéstops – an opportunity for retailers and other outlets to encourage visitors. The issue I have with this is the likely level of potential conversion and the controversy of specific sponsors (at release McDonalds are rumoured to be one of the first to sponsor).
What is next?
Surely, through all this map based gaming, users will be developing their map reading and spatial awareness skills – does this mean a whole generation of gamers who have a better understanding of geographic space?
Pokémon Go could just be a passing fad for the masses – it will need to have some enhancements to keep everyone’s interest moving forward, particularly as it will get harder to defeat established Gyms. Other Pokémon will inevitably be added to provide a fresh impetus to play.
Sponsored Pokéstops are coming – what will be interesting is which businesses are prepared to pay money in order to capitalise on the success of the game.
Finally, there are no tangible benefits for employees to play Pokémon Go during work hours (even after the health benefits of walking around!) and therefore employers do need to remind staff of their policies on gaming and social media during work hours in order to minimise disruption.