(Update 7/21 – Added new links and stories following the release of the game.)
It’s official: Pokémon Go is the most popular app in U.S. history.
In case you’ve been living indoors without internet for the past two weeks, on July 6, a Pokémon mobile app was released, using Augmented Reality, GPS, and touchscreen technology to combine the virtual Pokémon world, with our physical world.
In just a matter of days, the game has become a global phenomenon:
- More than 65 million users are playing in the United States just seven days after launch.
- Nintendo (the parent owner of The Pokémon Group) saw shares rise 53% three days after its launch.
- Pokémon Go has more active daily users than Twitter.
- Pokémon Go has been installed more times than Tinder.
- It’s developed a black market for accounts, encouraged people to walk dogs from local animal shelters, and started a stampede in Central Park.
- And to top it off: Pokémon Go is generating more revenue and downloads than any other app.
With such a large and engaged user base, and an addicting incentive to visit real-world locations, there are a number of ways marketers can harness the potential of Pokémon Go to generate business. Now that we’ve had a couple weeks to observe and analyze the way people use it, we’ve come to a couple conclusions.
But first, you have to understand what it is.
Pokémon Go: An Augmented Reality
What is Pokémon Go? How does it work?
Pokémon Go is a free app available for iOS and Android. The premise is the same: capture and level up Pokémon. Unlike previous games, where Pokémon were found in 2D environments, Pokémon GO places them all around you.
The game uses the GPS in your phone to track your location. Depending on where you are, different Pokémon and PokéStops (real-life locations that drop Pokéballs to catch Pokémon with, among other items) appear on your screen.
By using the camera in your smartphone, the game can create an augmented reality- a view of the physical, real-world with elements of CGI.
In other words, a virtual Doduo will show up right in front of you, as if it were actually there.
Why is it so popular?
The first, most obvious explanation: nostalgia. It’s the memory and feeling of adventure. Pokémon has not only captured the imaginations of both children and adults, but has remained a pop culture cornerstone for the past 20 years. By bringing the game to an ever-increasing mobile market, more people can experience (or re-experience) the thrill and escapism of catching Pokémon.
Of course, there’s more draw to the game than just sentiment. It uses technology that binds two worlds, physical and virtual, in a way that isn’t usually possible. Pokémon Go’s ability to have users engage with the real-world by using their phone is an amazing feat. While AR is nothing new (Yelp was actually the first AR iPhone app), Pokémon Go is a great example of how to make it effective and appealing.
It gamifies exercises. Couch potatoes and gamers, people usually found indoors, are actually venturing outside. Too often people are detached from their surroundings by looking down on their phone. By incentivizing people to walk around and explore previously unvisited locations, and by rewarding players with levels and in-game items, exercise can become addicting. Mobile augmented reality has finally found a successful way to blur the line between virtuality and reality.
It encourages social interaction. People suffering from anxiety and depression have found comfort in being incentivized to explore. “It helps a person not even think of it as helping their mood because it’s not targeted toward their mood. It’s a game,” Dr. John Grohol says, founder of Psych Central Mental Health Network. “Because of the way that they’ve created the gaming dynamics, they’ve actually created a very strong reinforcement for people to go out and become more active.”
How Pokémon Go Can Benefit Businesses
PokéStops, Lures and Attracting Visitors
Some real-world locations such as cafes, restaurants, parks, gyms and more show up in the virtual Pokémon world. These are known PokéStops, and are usually pulled from Google Maps. They drop certain items that can be used to level up or catch Pokémon.
But more importantly, they can be turned into giant magnets for Pokémon. For one dollar, you can buy a “lure module” in Pokémon Go. You may have even seen them used in the app, since PokéStops with activated lures have pink petals surrounding it. This means that more Pokémon are attracted to that area.
In real life, lures don’t just lure Pokémon, they lure real people.
Take Huge Cafe for instance. The Atlanta business has already started using lures to attract more customers. “We started testing our idea with around $50 worth of Lure points,” said Derek Fridman, executive creative director for Huge Cafe, “If more people are around, more quality Pokémon we will get.”
Huge has reportedly seen a significant spike in traffic since their start of incorporating Pokémon Go on Monday.
AR and Photo Promotions
Huge Cafe isn’t just relying on lures to spread awareness. Now, Huge is offering a unique promotion between 11am and 2pm on Tuesdays. Visitors that photograph Pokémon at Huge Cafe and post it on social media with #hugecafe are entitled to a free bun in the cafe.
Businesses aren’t the only ones creating photo opportunities. Even the National Mall and Memorial Parks Facebook Page has used Pokémon Go as an incentive to visit the parks.
Photos are a great way to show off the location of the business while incorporating the fun, audience component that Pokémon Go brings.
Charging Stations, Wi-Fi Hotspots, and Other Trainer Essentials
Another tactic is to provide trainers with the resources they need to keep playing. For one, Pokémon Go is a huge drain on your mobile data. Some carriers like T-mobile are already updating their offerings to include free Pokémon Go data.
For everyone else, your business could offer free Wi-Fi, so long as your customers purchase something. Maybe you could offer Wi-Fi as a reward for promoting the place with a hashtag or photo.
Batteries are also being drained by the app. The processing power required to run augmented reality and GPS tends to leave many smartphones out of juice in just a few hours. If you have a business with a high amount of walk-in traffic or a public seating area, advertising free charging stations entice customers to stick around.
Other offerings like water bottles, snacks, or energy drinks are just a few suggestions of how you could take advantage of the way the game works- rewarding people who like to walk a lot and explore using their phone.
An Early Vision of the Future
This does not even include the other initiatives and possibilities in store for the app. Remember- this is the first version, and some countries are only now receiving the app. Here’s what we know will be coming up next:
John Hanke, CEO of Pokémon Go developer Niantic, has already confirmed that sponsored retail locations will be coming to the game. What this might entail, we’re not quite sure just yet. Perhaps, similar to Google Maps, some locations might have a chance at better placement or visibility depending on how much they spend. Alternatively, existing locations might have paid options to increase the amount of Pokémon or items in that area.
One reddit user already found mentions of a McDonald’s sponsorship in the game’s code. “Based off what I’ve found it looks like they’re going to hold a promo with McDonald’s which’ll turn them into all gyms,” said NPW told Gizmodo.
Legendary Pokémon, Trading, and Other Features to Come
The same reddit user mentioned other features in the code that are currently not implemented. These include legendary Pokémon (the rarest type, which could be leveraged for advertising), trading, and some new items. NPW also mentioned “natures” called “stoic” and “raider” which are vague hints of an effect on the Pokémon or the Trainers. Needless to say, Pokémon Go is not finished and that more is just around the corner.
Keep in mind that the game is only a few weeks old. Already we’ve seen paradigm shifts in the way people behave, and the way we interact with the world. No other app has harnessed the combined potential of augmented reality, geopositioning, social media, and gamification. We’ll have to wait and see whether this is the beginning of a new industry or platform, or just another fad that will sizzle after four months.