July 18, 2016
/ by Jim Dougherty
I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but there is a lot of buzz around the mobile game Pokémon Go lately (you’ve noticed, right?). It’s been a huge success for Niantic Labs (a company that was spun off from Google and specializes in building apps over Google Maps), Nintendo and The Pokémon Company.
And while the urge to go hunt and battle Pokémons may not have overcome you (and this probably is reflective of your age or the age of the people who live with you), there are some immediate and short-term things that communication and marketing professionals should know about this augmented-reality juggernaut.
First off, perhaps you’re wondering what the Pokémon Go game does. Here’s the lowdown:
Pokémon Go is an augmented-reality mobile app for iOS and Android devices. It is based on the Pokémon characters of the card and video games (which have been around for 20+ years and continue to be very popular).
The game play is initially pretty simple: players use Pokéballs to capture Pokémon characters (there are 151 in total, although my Pokédex shows a measly 102), use acquired “candy” to evolve their Pokémon characters and battle their characters in different gyms to increase the gym’s prestige. The Pokémon characters are seen on an in-app map (the game is built using the Google Maps API to overlay Google Maps data), and when provoked appear in your phone camera to be “captured.”
Characters are more apt to congregate around “Pokéstops” and gyms (which currently overlay with specified hotspot locations from a previous Niantic game, Ingress), but generally can be found anywhere (at least at the novice stage of the game).
The game is free to play, but players can buy Pokécoins that allows them to purchase Poke Balls (which “capture” the Pokémon), Incense (which increases the frequency that Pokémon appear for you), Lures (which lure all Pokémon within a certain area to your location), Eggs (which increase the XP for capturing Pokémon), and some other enhancements.
My six-year old could probably explain the nuances of the game better…but hopefully this gives you the gist of it (here’s a link to a very good Pokémon Go primer on Kotaku if my kid isn’t available).
For years there has been a desire (at least among marketers) for augmented reality apps. Google envisioned a world where people would wear their Glass device to see overlays in their field of vision, Foursquare (now Swarm) tried to gamify augmented reality, Highlight (one of my favorite apps that nobody that I know uses) tried to use augmented reality as a social device, and there have been plenty of others.
Pokémon Go has (initially, at least) become one of the largest-scale augmented-reality successes. Similar Web posted a breakdown of app usage demonstrating that in a few weeks Pokémon Go has nearly doubled the total app downloads for Tinder, is fast approaching the daily active users of Twitter, and has user time-on site far exceeding any app not named Facebook. It is an augmented-reality success at a scale that’s never been accomplished, and it will continue to grow bigger in the near-term.
Reuters reports that Niantic is taking advantage of this success by launching sponsored augmented-reality “spots” within the game, similar to the monetization of their previous AR game, Ingress. McDonald’s already may be partnering with Niantic for AR inclusion with the game.
For smaller businesses, there are some best-practice posts for leveraging proximity to Pokéstops and monetized features (specifically Lures) to generate foot traffic in businesses, although you’d probably want to be well acquainted with the game to implement these. Niantic also has a request form for businesses to apply to become a Pokéstop or gym, but it’s unclear whether they have made any adjustments from the Ingress hot spots that Pokémon Go adopted.
There are going to be a lot of copycat apps coming to market after the success of Pokémon Go. Odds are that they will probably fail to build to anywhere near the scale that Pokémon Go has. The difference is concept and scale. Obviously many people over the last 20 years have grown up with Pokémon (and have an intuitive understanding of the story and the game) and Pokémon Go has grown to a scale where participation offers an enhanced social status.
One analog to Pokémon Go’s scale advantage is Facebook. There were social networks before Facebook, there have been many after (including the well-funded Google Plus and Twitter). Many social networks have better features than Facebook. And despite bells, whistles and Blue Oceans, no social network can compete with the scale and use of Facebook — its scale has become one of its greatest utilities. This is why Facebook continues to be the best-monetized social network despite its many flaws.
Pokémon Go doesn’t have a rival (at scale) in the augmented reality category. The “me too” apps that follow may be better concepts and better technology, but the scale of Pokémon Go should continue to drive its utility in the near future. The lesson for marketers and communication professionals should be to explore paid opportunities to leverage the app, just as you would when prospecting or communicating on Facebook.
The note above was posted on Reddit, comparing Pokémon Go to “Hammer Pants,” “Crystal Pepsi*,” and “CSI Miami.” It’s funny, but it may not be far from the truth. (* This person may not be aware that Crystal Pepsi is returning to stores near you.)
Predicting a fad versus a trend isn’t a talent of mine, but there are gamification dynamics that may determine whether Pokémon Go achieves a consistent scale or goes the was of the Macarena. Bernard Suits (via Jane McGonigal in her awesome book, “Reality Is Broken”) defines games as the “voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles.”
Gaming fatigue occurs when games give you less gratification over time, eventually causing you to quit the game altogether. At scale, gaming fatigue doesn’t have to happen for everybody: once there isn’t social status conferred by playing a game, many other people could quit.
This isn’t to say that gamer fatigue will happen. The Pokémon Company has proven to understand game engines and dynamics quite effectively for 20 years. They will at least change the game to try to continue to engage players. If Facebook is an example of how Pokémon Go can leverage its scale, Zynga is an example of how devastating a loss of scale could be to monetization.
Whether you play Pokémon Go, find a way to leverage the platform for your business, or just enjoy reading Kotaku’s (often hilarious) articles about Pokémon Go players, you should know that this will probably be a PR and marketing case study in the future.
Niantic says that Pokémon Go started as an April Fool’s Joke, and has very little PR and marketing budget behind it. Perhaps. Although, there may be some incongruence in the fact that Google and Nintendo invested $30 million in Niantic when developing Pokémon Go.
True or not the origin story of Pokémon Go is pretty compelling, and no matter how much money they spent promoting the game, it’s clear from server downtime (and common sense) that they didn’t anticipate the scale that they quickly achieved with the game. The achieved scale is a massive PR and marketing success story regardless of how much longevity Pokémon Go achieves.
As the novelty wears out and more is shared about how Niantic and it’s partners promoted the game, there should be some useful insight into how they used their communications and marketing teams to promote Pokémon Go as effectively as they have.
Whether Pokémon Go is the transcendent augmented reality app or the 2016 version of Hammer pants, it offers a value proposition for players, communication professionals, marketers and businesses. Hopefully you learned something you didn’t know about the game or the opportunities for businesses within in. But if you didn’t and would like some immediate gratification, feel welcome to enjoy the 1990 classic “U Can’t Touch This” by the originator of the Hammer pants, MC Hammer.
Images via Pixabay: 1, 2
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