It feels like the ‘90s as Blink-182 release a new album and the craze of Pokémon hits the world, hard. Pokémon Go, the new smartphone app that overlays a insanely detailed virtual world across the Earth tracks peoples steps via GPS and uses a form of augmented reality to allow the capture of Pokémon.
Behind the app, developed by Niantic, is a talented team of engineers who have many years of experience working on Google Maps and Google Earth. The app that spent five years in development is a game changer for mobile games, only made possible by the modern functionalities afforded by smartphones. In the past Pokémon was played on Nintendo’s consoles or through the Pokémon Trading Card Game; Pokémon Yellow on the original Gameboy was a treat.
Launched only in July the app has already surpassed Twitter’s active user base and generated more downloads than games Angry Birds 2 and Candy Crush. In real-world terms this has doubled Nintendo’s market capitalisation to $42.5 billion, making trading history as the company had the biggest daily turnover in Topix index this century – even beating SoftBank.
If these numbers aren’t enough to take Pokémon Go seriously, then just look around you. People are gathering in cities across the world staring at their smartphones, physically following steps in a virtual world. Together all players have created an augmented reality world where the decisions and actions of each player have an untraceable impact on others.
Your local church has never been more popular because it’s now a Pokémon Gym. That sculpture in your town is now a supply station for Poké Balls. Crowds are gathering because a Lure Module has been installed outside a café.
With more active users than Twitter, Pokémon Go is fast becoming a top gaming social network with plenty of development opportunities to continue growing. As it was only launched in July, no demographic information has been released yet but it may be fair to assume its top audience as between the ages of 16 – 30. If so, putting the popular app into a similar playing field as Tumblr, Snapchat, and Instagram.
So what can companies and brands do to use Pokémon Go to their advantage? It’s all about attracting people through the virtual world to real-world locations.
So far we know that …
- As covered by the Financial Times, Niantic is planning to allow retailers and other companies to sponsor places in the virtual world
- Advertising could go beyond sponsored locations, to actually having specific advertised items or effects within a game. For example, a pharmacy that heals Pokémon or a fast-food chain that provides berries you can use in the game
- Advertising has already started in Japan with sponsored gyms at 3,000 McDonald’s outlets
- Brands are already trying organic methods to attract people to their locations, such as using Lure Modules (a warning for any companies attempting organic ways to use Pokémon Go, as the word is bans could take place)
Until advertising becomes available in Europe for Pokémon Go, it’s difficult to know whether the investment will deliver to business outcomes. One thing is for certain, play the game right and you could attract a group of Pokémon-crazed fans straight to your front door. Whether they’ll do anything more than catch virtual monsters through is another question entirely.