I admit it. I never accepted an invitation to play Candy Crush, in spite of my friends who said I would love it.
When Pokémon GO emerged on July 6, 2016, I shrugged it off. Seriously? I should spend my time wandering around in search of some virtual cartoon characters? Then feeding and training them for battle? I didn’t see the attraction among anyone but ‘tweens,’ and maybe some college kids.
Pokemon Go is Everywhere
Last weekend, I was sitting in a café, and the family next to me was chattering excitedly about the rare Tauros and the legendary Mewtwo. I was impressed, thinking they were having a cultural discussion about mythology or literature. But, no, once the bill was paid, they hurried out in search of Pokémon.
During a family ‘stay-cation’ in July, my sons and their friends were sitting around a fire talking about Pokemon Go (keep in mind they are all in their 30’s…). One of them is an avid player and tried to get my sons into it. They went down to the local church (it was marked a Pokestop) like a group of teenage boys. They then proceeded to go around the neighborhood at 11pm on a scavenger hunt, looking for coins or something similar to help them get further in the game. They came back to the house for the rest of the night and told stories about how they could hear neighbors’ car doors locking. Ha!
Pokémon GO has become so popular that you don’t need to refer to it by name. With our penchant for abbreviations—like J-Lo and BOGO—I’m surprised “the game” is not referred to as PoGO. Or is it?
Pokémon GO is an augmented reality game, based on the Pokémon franchise that created its own phenomenon in the 1990s, beginning with a good, old-fashioned trading card game. In the augmented reality (AR) version, players use their mobile device’s GPS to hunt for characters that pop up in random places. They capture them at Pokéstops—real-world locations that are noted on the GPS by an icon—by tossing a virtual Pokéball at the character. Then, they train them in designated Gyms to battle others — in a friendly sort of way, of course.
As a source of revenue, players can use in-app purchasing to get Pokéballs and other hunting paraphernalia, like incense, potions, and eggs. Businesses can also pay to become a Pokéstop. In the first month alone, with a staggering 100 million+ downloads, the game earned more than $200 million in revenue.
When one of the rare Pokémon GO characters was rumored to be in a California suburb, the residents were shocked by the sudden surge of traffic in their neighborhood.
“My sister almost got hit by a car because they’re all speeding and using their phones at the same time,” said Angelina Guneims, a non-player in Rancho Cordova.
The Rancho Cordova police department busily wrote traffic citations for people who were “driving and playing”. But the ravenous players weren’t discouraged.
In Holyoke, Massachusetts, resident Boon Sheridan’s home—a converted church—was identified as a Pokémon Gym by the game. A gym is the place where the players train their characters once they reach level 5. Or so, I’m told. Sheridan’s home became a frequent stop for players, who stopped in front at all times of the day and night.
The odd traffic prompted him to warn his neighbors, “Hey, I’m not a drug dealer. I have no say in this!”
Such chaos has prompted the developers of Pokémon GO, Niantic Labs, to provide a website where people can request to have a Pokéstop or Gym removed from the game.
On the plus side, some businesses are enjoying the rush. Mad Hatter’s Ice Cream in Anacortes, Washington, was barely able to stay in business. Then a location across the street became a Pokéstop. Owner Gary Dear says his sales have doubled and tripled since then. He had to extend his store hours and hire more employees to meet the ice cream desires of the players.
I’m not saying that I’m joining in this Poképanic, but perhaps the need to explore the possibilities of augmented reality, for business purposes, would be a worthwhile endeavor.