Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Future, Brought to You By Pokémon Go

It's just a game, critics say. They're right, too, in the sense that it's not worth going to jail for trespassing or risking life and limb playing it while driving. But this is not the Pokémon from before, and that's where they are wrong.

I jumped on the Pokemon Go bandwagon on day 3, after reading a compelling article about how it's application of Augmented Reality is the first application that nailed it. I called it an instant addiction; I had to go to the library anyways and saw that there were stops there, so I went and collected my first items and Pokémon. I went home, because it was far too hot outside, but found myself anxiously awaiting my boyfriend coming home from work so I could get him (the gamer and former Pokémon player) to download it so we could go play it.  In an ironic turn of events, he had been avoiding it for fear of life-ruining addiction, and I was the one who convinced him to play.  We ended up finding a bunch of Pokemon in the mall, and later joined thousands playing on Mill Ave.

The game has not only gone viral itself, but the virality of it has sprung new Twitter accounts and hilarious memes, new business models (i.e. sponsoring lures to attract customers), new crimes (i.e. using lures to attract victims, then robbing them), and new vocabularies (I read Pokeconomy earlier this week).

From my viewpoint, it's great to finally see an intersection between gaming and physical activity, something the Wii and specifically the Wii Fit seemed to promise but failed to deliver in mass; the games didn't have an addictive nature to them that kept users coming back or using it as their primary exercise. FitBit incorporated a social and competitive element to its otherwise essentially glorified pedometer, but that motivation only goes so far. One of the hilarious memes circulating the Twitterverse early on noted, "It took Michele Obama 8 years to get America active, and Nintendo 2 days." Another

showed a surge in FitBit steps and noted that "My FitBit doesn't know what happened 3 days ago." Increasing activity is always a good thing in my book. But as at least one tweeter pointed out, it seems like a partnership with FitBit and Pokémon Go is inevitable. Maybe not a direct partnership, but it does feel like the game needs to better acknowledge active movement versus driving, and active movement in a small area, so a FitBit - like technology would fit better than the GPS tracking currently used. It's unfortunate that walking around the house or on a treadmill doesn't help my eggs hatch in Pokémon Go.  It's really too dang hot in Phoenix in the summer to exercise outside during "normal hours", so Phoenicians specifically are doing more driving and playing, which is probably not good for anyone but gas companies. We may have a great time come winter here, but I'm not sure the phenomenon will still be a predominant use of leisure time by then.

For as much as the media is raving about the social interaction Pokémon Go encourages, I was a little surprised there was no way to add or see friends in the game. We went to a Pokehunt that first Saturday night, and one of my boyfriend's friends had been there, but we didn't run into him physically, and weren't checking facebook because our screens were dedicated to the game, and so we had no idea until later. Maybe it would be too stalkerish or Big Brother - like, but I think the game should tell you when your friends are nearby (on a permission basis). At the very least, I thought the old Pokémon
had a trading function, yet sitting next to my boyfriend and nephew, the game doesn't acknowledge they are there playing with me, and we can't trade.  We did bump into some people who recognized Jaiman at last night's hunt along Tempe Town Lake (looking for water creatures, a rare find here in the desert), but it still felt more like an exception than part of the phenomenon.

What I think the media has gotten right is the amazing impact the game has had on local and small businesses.  Take my own personal experience, for example.  I've been meaning to try this restaurant just down the street for a while - it's a Scandinavian place, so the food was a little intimidating to me - and it happens to be one of those lucky(?) businesses marked as a Pokestop.  So, when Jaiman and I were debating what to do for lunch one lazy Saturday, I suggested we go there and load up on Pokeballs and other goodies from the stop, while finally trying the place out.  The food was wonderful, we got a lot of balls, and that restaurant got our business for the first time (and probably repeat customers in us).  Later, a specific game store announced it was a stop and was luring Pokemon to the stop, inviting players to come and hang out in the A/C.  I would not have been too excited to go to such a store normally, but I ended up buying a used Wii steering wheel for a good price, something that I've half-heartedly wanted for a long time.  So again, they got business they wouldn't have gotten otherwise, and I got a new toy at a good price.  From the news reports, it appears my anecdotes aren't far from the general idea.  Local businesses are booming in unexpected ways.  And that's just for the existing businesses.
There was definitely a step change in the Pokehunting events we went to that first Saturday compared to the following weekend.  The first Saturday of Pokemon Go, people were out in mass, playing the game.  One week later, people were out in mass, but there were also street vendors peddling Pokemon-styled hats, shirts, and water bottles (hey, we're still in the desert).  People had set up tables and were blasting the audio of the Pokemon shows being displayed on their laptops, I guess to attract Pokemon fans to their table to buy their wares.  While most were looking to turn a profit, one lady was handing out free glow bracelets and necklaces to represent our team colors, and another group was handing out free bottles of water.

A quick search online will show that there are people making all sorts of unauthorized merchandise for Pokemon Go.  The most stand-out one to me were the team decal pre-orders for the Pokemon Go Watch - the watch isn't even out yet and this guy is ready to sell you a pre-order for a decal to go on top of it.  It's brilliant, really, because only time will tell if Pokemon Go will be a big thing in a month or two, so he's trying to capture sales now while it is a big thing.

I've even seen evidence of churches getting in on the Pokecraze, inviting trainers in to play in the A/C.  I'm not sure if any Pokemon trainers will find Christ through this effort, but it certainly couldn't hurt.

One thing is for sure: the world has fundamentally changed in some way.  But to me the nagging question is, what's next?  Between server crashes, some Pokemon trainers spending far too much time hunting and evolving for the rest of us to catch up, and just the nature of fads in general, I really don't see the obsession being sustainable.  Pokemon Go proved that Augmented Reality can be done well - so what other applications of AR could be as appealing?  One blog post suggested AR killed virtual reality by the sheer ease of adoption - I'm not sure I'm convinced of that yet, I just think VR is still early in its life cycle and hasn't found the right applications yet.

Copycat games are an inevitability, if they haven't already started, (I'm already seeing requests going out into the social media world for a Harry Potter version, because, you know, Pokémon isn't nerdy enough for some people in my friends list) but I am confident that straight copycat or even slightly improved ideas won't catch like Pokémon Go. The difference is that Pokémon Go is a disruptor.  But capturing what makes it such a viral disruptor is what is critical for the enterprising thinker looking to capitalize on this technology.

One article I read attributes the virality of Pokemon Go to what the author called FOMO, fear of missing out.  I would agree if, after my first jaunt around the library, I was satisfied that now I know what it is and I can move on with my life.  But that's not what happened.  I was addicted, and couldn't wait for my boyfriend to come home so I could make him download it and start playing with me.  So it may be a FOMO that causes some to start, but the world would be bored with it by now if that was all there was to it.  There's definitely something to the personal victory and elation one feels when catching a rare breed of Pokemon; something akin to bragging rights.  There's also a level of complexity to the game - you can visit stops to get things, including eggs that you have to walk in order to hatch, you can hunt lots of little Pokemon to evolve your bigger ones, and the battling at the gyms is a whole different level. 

I think there's also an appeal that Pokemon Go is good for you - in the sense that it gets you moving about, and exploring your town.  I was a little disturbed that Pokehunting now seems to be a predominant Saturday night activity for Jaiman and I, and was basically too embarrassed to even post about it on facebook.  But the truth is, it's better than sitting on the couch watching TV or playing a game at home, because of the activity level (albeit limited), and it's better than going to a movie because of the (also somewhat limited) social interactions.  It's something we can do together, outdoors, involving physical activity and meeting up with other people.  I think those attributes should trump the nerd factor. 

Here's the question I would pose to trainers: If you weren't looking for Pokemon, what would you want to be looking for?  The answers would most certainly be different for many people.  For some, the answer is finding a girlfriend.  For some, the answer is simply looking for a good conversation.  Some may need help with a project or want to find a partner to work on a startup with.  Some people are new in town and want to know what the cool things to do are.  So I am imagining an sharing economy app that could help link like interests and match people up based on proximity.  Put another way, it could be a AR-based dating app, professional networking app, startup incubating app, educational app, and life list assisting app, all in one.  This essentially would assist or automatically create the serendipity that so often aids us in pursuing our goals normally. 

For example, I am not single so I am not seeking a mate.  But I am interested in learning more about 3D printing applications and the future of the technology, as well as self-driving cars, sustainable energy, personal robotic assistants, and health and diet.  I want to have a great conversation with a smart person, and am especially interested in those topics, but open to others.  I also have on my Life List, among other things, the desires to try pole vaulting, ride a penny-farthing bicycle, and be an extra in a movie.  I am a supply chain expert (with specialization in kanban and SAP implementation), enjoy designing / painting large graphical murals, own a 3D printer, have over 100,000 miles on my electric car, am really good at Microsoft Excel, I know a lot of good hikes and breweries in the area, and am okay at swing dancing.  I walk into a bar and turn my app on, indicating to the AR world that I am open to conversation.  Ideally, the app connects me with someone who knows a lot about 3D printing but doesn't have access to one, or a person who is a track coach and can help me with pole vaulting, and wants to learn about Microsoft Excel.  Maybe there isn't someone who is mutually beneficial to me, but the app may direct someone wanting to know about electric cars my way, or may direct me to the person in the bar who owns a penny-farthing bicycle. 

Maybe some of the services we provide, we would put a price tag on, like's model.  We could also say how much we're willing to pay for something, i.e. I will pay someone $100 to get my 3D printer working.  Having great conversation or seeking a mate are certainly things we would not put a price tag on.  In this way, it's like airbnb or uber, but for more abstract things.

One of the challenges I see is, where airbnb and uber are "sharing" things that are tangible, a living space or a car, and can be rated as such, the quality of work or even the quality of a conversation cannot be judged as objectively.  I think we'd want to have some sort of IQ test for intelligent conversations, samples of work for artists or service providers, and other qualifications.  The other challenge I would worry about is that the app would attract creepers and awkward socialists, much like I saw predominantly at Events and Adventures when I was single and looking for a man.  The kinds of people I would want to socialize would think, "I don't need an app to help me socialize," and wouldn't join, so I would need a way to incentivize them to get good results.  The question, then, is, does enabling goals provide enough incentive for the target people to join? 

This is just one idea of how Pokemon Go could lead the way for innovative new ideas.  I could also imagine brick-and-mortar shopping models getting in on the ideas, as well as health & nutritional applications (eat this, not that).  One thing is for sure, the world has had a paradigm shift in the way we use our phones to interact with the environment around us. 

No comments:

Post a Comment