Driving through a parking lot at your local strip mall will never be the same. What was once empty asphalt is now a meeting place for players of a popular new game by former Google startup, Niantic. What is currently really just a beta rollout of an augmented reality game made for Android and iOS has quickly become a phenomenon catching on with players from seven to 70, and beyond.
Pokémon Go benefits from Niantic’s previous dive into augmented reality, Ingress. It’s believed that much of the data used to create Pokémon Go‘s Poké Stops, real-world locations where players can converge to receive virtual goods and encounter Pokemon creatures at greater frequency, was sourced from Ingress player’s contributions.
This is one explanation for so many Poké Stops being found in traditionally adult locations in addition to parks, playgrounds, schoolyards, ice cream shops, and more.
Niantic, which raised $20 million in investments from Google, Nintendo and Pokémon Co., has been reporting $1.6 million in revenue each day since Pokémon Go‘s U.S. release on July 6. That’s a pretty impressive number coming from a free app just a few days after release.
In order to better understand this overnight phenomenon — no, let me be honest — In order to dive head first into this incredibly nostalgic experience, I visited one of the largest Pokémon Go Gyms in Austin, Texas. Gyms in Pokemon are virtual spots where players meet to battle their pokemon in order to gain experience points and establish dominance for one of three teams a player can align themselves with when they reach level five.
The first night I arrived, it was 95 degrees outside and the sun was just peeking over the horizon. It was hot and muggy, and completely full of people sitting or standing with their faces glued to their smartphone screens. The image above was taken at Austin’s Southpark Meadows, a shopping center that features a gathering space at its center which is usually empty on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Not anymore.
On Tuesday, there was at least 100 people actively playing. They were sitting in the artificial turf or on giant boulders carved out to serve as benches. On Wednesday, the number appeared to have doubled. This silly, often-dismissed game that the media can’t seem to stop talking about is actually a huge hit.
Why Pokémon Go is a good thing for players
Pokémon Go is a good thing for its players. Not only does it encourage you to actually get off the couch and walk around, it requires you to do so. You have to chase down Pokemon and catch them, which means putting on your sneakers and heading out the front door. You can receive eggs which only hatch if you walk a certain distance while playing, and you have to actually go to a Pokémon Go Gym to enjoy the multiplayer aspect of the game.
From my experience walking up to players in front of stores, at virtual meeting places, and even in line at the post office, Pokémon Go is the perfect ice-breaker. Players greet each other with a friendly, knowing smile and a warm welcome. You’re playing? You’re in the club.
This experience spanned cultural and age boundaries, as well. I sat down with a random group of people and played for twenty minutes. We talked about the game, shared tips, and joined each other’s celebration as they caught an elusive and rare Pokemon.
It felt more like I was going to a party with friends than just walking around playing on my phone around a bunch of people. We were there to have fun.
From a fitness aspect, I walked more in two days than I would ever have otherwise. I exercised, and from talking to other players, they were too. “I walked five miles today, and I’m just getting started,” one player said with a smile.
Why Pokémon Go is good for local businesses
Remember that shopping center I mentioned earlier? It was doing a lot of business thanks in part to this app. Amy’s Ice Creams, a popular stop for frozen treats on a hot summer day, was filled with players. This was due, in part, because the shop was a Poké Stop.
Store owners and players alike can purchase Lures which are little pink virtual devices that can be applied to a stop to make it more attractive to surrounding Pokémon, enabling players to kick back and rest their tired feet for about half an hour while they catch Pokémon after Pokémon.
While there is no practical way right now for a company to add itself to a list of stops, being located near one is enough to make it easy to advertise yourself as a go-to place for players to kick back and relax. From a marketing opportunity standpoint, it’s a chance to go where the players are, hand out water bottles with your business card or a coupon for 20% off one of your company’s products while you’re out there.
In any case, it gets players out of their houses and on to the street.
How Pokémon Go could build a real community
There is already a case where people playing Pokémon Go have actually helped fight crime. While no, they didn’t throw a Pokéball at a criminal and catch him, the game did put them in the right place, at the right time.
Two veterans of the United States Marine Corps were out playing the game at a local park when they noticed a man harassing children and their mothers. They kept an eye on him as he went from one family to another, and when he put his hands on a child, they moved in to escort the man away and alert police to the situation.
When the police arrived, they identified the man as one they had been looking for for attempted murder.
It goes without saying that a society that communicates and shares common interest with one-another is a more polite one. Individuals that would otherwise spend time alone or with a select group of friends are actively meeting and making new ones thanks to this simple augmented reality game.
It will be some time before we are able to say whether or not Pokémon Go will last, or if it’s just a Summer fad. The upcoming release of a wearable for players that alerts them when they’re near a Gym or a Pokémon ready for catching hints that the craze is just getting started. For now, we can be grateful that at the very least it’s getting people off the couch and out the door.