The Pokémon Go Phenomenon

By : Christopher Wray | August 30, 2016 | Blog

The Pokémon Go Phenomenon

August 30, 2016

The Pokémon Go craze took the world by storm in July and instantly broke records with over 10 million downloads in its first week, more daily active users than Twitter and a higher average user time than Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and WhatsApp. It peaked at 23 million daily active users which is more than any other app has ever achieved.


But what is the cause of its massive popularity and universal appeal? As comedian Eddie Cantor once said, “it takes 20 years to make an overnight success” and this is certainly the case for Pokémon Go. While it might seem like an overnight sensation that came out of nowhere, for John Hanke, the CEO of Niantic, and creator of Pokémon Go, it was actually a 20-year journey to get to this point.




We take a look at some of the reasons Pokémon Go grabbed everyone’s attention and what makes the app so interesting:


Convergence of technology

Pokémon Go is a convergence of many different technologies including data mining, geo-mapping, augmented reality, online gaming, personal monitoring devices, the availability of smart phones and an established Internet infrastructure. Not to mention the legacy and appeal of the Pokémon game. As one article notes the game would not be as popular as it is if it were not for the nostalgia of Pokémon fans who have played the Nintendo game and followed the franchise which includes comics, cartoons and a card game.


The familiarity of the game was key as it made it immediately recognisable and accessible to fans. But it is important to keep in mind that in order to play it, it requires a massive global database and server infrastructure plus users need to have high-speed data plans, phones with capable camera technology, and a smartphone with a decent battery life.  These are technologies which simply were not available or accessible to the majority of people a few years ago.




An evolution in online gaming

When most of us think of online gaming we think of it as a solitary and sedentary activity which one does on the couch from the comfort of our home. This game however turns that idea on its head. To play you have to go outside, get fresh air and exercise. To collect Pokémon, you have to go to the physical locations in your area where they are situated and to unlock ‘pokéballs’ you have to walk or ride a bike. It is estimated that an average gamer could burn up to 1800 calories a week playing the game.


It is also accessible to everyone as it is simple enough for anyone from children to adults to understand and play. It is basically a scavenger hunt where you have to go to different locations to find and capture different creatures. For a more detailed explanation you can read Gamesradar’s article on the Pokémon Go basics.


Combining these factors is proving to make the game incredibly social as many people converge at the same location to play, it enables interaction among players. You can play with friends or chat to people you meet at different locations. As there are no instructions or prompts from the game to explain how to play, players often ask each other for tips and tricks while playing.


This is a totally different take on the way we think about online games and opens up many interesting possibilities for games in the future.


A database of interesting locations

Pokémon Go works over the platform of Google Maps and its creator just so happens to be one of the key contributors to the founding of Google Earth. For John Hanke, the mapping on Pokémon Go was crucial to getting the game right. Pokéstop locations and Pokémon gyms are also integrated with Google Maps and linked to popular and historical landmarks.


How these locations are chosen is thanks to another game previously developed by Hanke and Niantic, called Ingress which helped to create the database of suitable locations geo-tagged by Google Maps. The Ingress data set was so extensive it was used as the starting point for Pokémon Go. This gave the creators of Pokémon Go a significant advantage as they didn’t have to painstakingly identify suitable locations to place their Pokémon characters because they could use the existing Ingress data that had already been gathered.




The next step in augmented reality

Virtually reality is a popular buzzword in the gaming world at the moment and a new technological development that is seeing significant investment. But where virtual reality games need specialised devices and equipment for gamers to play them, to play an augmented reality game all you need is a smartphone. Augmented reality is different in that it layers the game over the existing reality infrastructure available. So that instead of playing the game with a virtual map you are seeing a real map of your location.


As Fast Co-design mentions there have been many attempts to create popular augmented reality games already, but Pokémon Go is the first widely adopted augmented reality game ever developed.


John Hanke, the creator of Pokémon Go, believes that augmented reality games are the future as instead of having people sit inside with electronics on their head, augmented reality encourages people to go outside and interact with their surroundings. According to Hanke, augmented reality seeks to add to the real world, enhancing your experience every time you go outside. It is also said to be psychologically easier for us to adapt to as it involves our actual environment which signals familiarity and gives us a feeling of cognitive fluency making it easier and more enjoyable for us to play.




Mobile Broadband everywhere

Another significant factor that has allowed the quick uptake of Pokémon Go, at least in part, is the widespread availability of the Internet, Wi-Fi networks and Mobile Data. In order to play you need to be connected to a fast, stable connection and have access to a lot of data. As the cost of the Internet has gone down globally and the availability has become widespread it enables the widespread use of the Internet to play augmented reality games virtually anywhere in the world.


If you don’t want to rely on open Wi-Fi networks to play you need a data package on your phone. In South Africa we offer you Mobile Broadband, a package that gives you mobile 3G and LTE data so you can stay connected while virtually anywhere in the country. And with packages starting at just R49 per month for 1GB data it’s affordable too! The availability of mobile Internet means that you don’t have to stay at home to be connected to the Internet you can freely roam your city or town, collecting Pokémon without ever having to worry about being disconnected.


While Pokémon Go is the first in a new wave of games that are thinking about gaming differently and amalgamating a multitude of technologies to create unique user experiences, they certainly won’t be the last and it will be interesting to see what will be the next gaming development to capture our imaginations and enthusiasm.

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