I played Pokemon religiously growing up. I got a Gameboy Pocket for Christmas when I was seven or eight years old. I drained countless pairs of double A’s on Red Version. I watched the Pokemon cartoon in the afternoons when I got home from school. As I grew up, so did Pokemon — releasing more and more editions of the game. I’d add to my collection all summer. When my parents told me to go outside, I’d take my Gameboy with me and play there. I had books that included maps of the various regions — Johto, Kanto — and complete lists of the Pokemon and all of their abilities. I bought the last Pokemon game I have purchased my freshman year of college, more than ten years after my first game. I still play through them once in awhile.
I don’t play Pokemon Go.
Niantic Labs released the augmented reality game on July 6th. The rest has been a blur.
To outsiders, the game presents annoyances: herds of people darting back and forth through public spaces, heads buried in their phones; whole tables of people staring down at their screens during lunchtime conversations. Stories have surfaced of kids asking strangers for access to their backyards in the name of conquest. And, of course, there’s this.
To insiders however, the app offers a video game come to life. It taps into the nostalgia of a rabid fan base, making concrete (to some degree) what had previously been a childhood fantasy. Everyone who ever played the Pokemon games growing up most assuredly dreamt of a reality in which they actually possessed and raised a pocket monster of their own.
Regardless of your player status, Pokemon Go has been an ubiquitous force for the last three weeks. During a recent trip home my mom asked me if I had the game so she could play it. That never happened growing up. The sheer volume of people playing Pokemon Go has created huge implications for the tech world, and the world at large.
Pokemon Go as a digital marketing tool
How often does a brand new customer base of 21 million people appear over night? That’s the number of daily users for Pokemon Go, and the game hasn’t even finished its rollout. Businesses started to capitalize immediately.
Restaurants and coffee shops started advertising free wifi and check discounts for players that wanted to stop in. Since the game is location-based, those in the hunt for a Pikachu have to physically go to specific locations to claim their prize. Businesses that cater to players can catch the eye of potential customers that may not have known the business existed.
Plus, there are in-game methods of attracting players. Businesses can purchase “lures” to drop at specified Pokestops. If a business is near a Pokestop (generated by the game’s developers), for roughly $1 that business can drop a lure to cause Pokemon to appear in 30-minute intervals. This essentially sends out a beacon to players in the area drawing them to the business. It’s hard to find a better ROI per advertising dollar at the moment.
Pokemon Go as a security risk
While the game is a huge opportunity for commerce, it also presents its own set of risks. Millions and millions of people are downloading this game every day — some of them from third-party sites, which can be harbingers for malware.
Some raised concern over the permissions the app requested upon download. The developers have since said that they did not intend to require access to users’ Gmail and Google Docs, but it’s discomforting to consider the powerful combination of access and malware on your phone.
Then, of course, there’s the physical security threat. Police reports have been filed suggesting that criminals have lured Pokemon Go players to a particular place in order to rob them. And as far as the users themselves, with such a dedicated collection of players, it’s not hard to imagine some trespassing in order to secure a rare monster.
No matter your opinions or involvement with the game, you must acknowledge that Pokemon Go is a phenomenon. It’s hard to say if the game is here to stay just yet. The daily user numbers have already waned slightly, but in this moment, Pokemon Go certainly presents an opportunity.
My decision not to play Pokemon Go isn’t a principled one. (For the sake of my livelihood as a tech-centric guy who writes for a digital marketing firm I probably should play the game.) My current workload puts enough of a strain on my phone battery. As a freelancer, I don’t really need another distraction available to me 24/7. I like playing through the platform games for a week or so once every year or two. It’s a memory to which I have direct access.
I’m interested to see what Pokemon Go will become. I’m content to watch it from the outside.