Have You Caught Pokémon Go! Fever?
By Jon Aldrich
“Wait! There is a Pikachu next to that table over there!” My 14 year old son shouts excitedly. “A what, where?” I answer back. “There is a Pikachu by that table, I have to go catch him.” he says with glee. I look over there and don’t see any so called Pikachu’s over there. “He’s right there, see.” As he shows me the screen on his phone, and sure enough there is a little yellow creature on his screen. He does some magic with his thumb and throws a Pokéball to capture it and apparently Pikachu is now in his inventory of Pokémon that he has collected.
This was the scene a couple of weeks ago as our family waited outside on the patio deck of the restaurant we were going to up north for a fish fry. It has undoubtedly been played out millions and millions of times with others around the world, and not just kids, but adults as well, and sometimes more so. All because of the most popular phone app ever released, Pokémon Go.
It has turned millions of kids and adults into scavenger hunters searching for those elusive Pokémon creatures in all corners of the world. It has created great opportunities for small businesses that are cashing in on the craze, it has greatly increased the value of Nintendo Corp which partially owns the franchise, it has led to people being robbed and beaten while searching for these pocket monsters, and led people glued to their phones to fall off cliffs, run into objects or drive cars off the road.
So, how does the game work? It utilizes Augmented Reality (AR) which superimposes a computer generated image of the characters onto the user’s view of the real world that you can see via the screen on your phone. When one is nearby you use the camera feature on your phone to scan the area nearby and locate the elusive Pokémon, and try to capture him for your collection.
Pokémon was created in Japan in 1995 by three Japanese companies including Nintendo and arrived in 1996 on the Nintendo Game Boy portable video game system. The name “Pokémon” means “Pocket Monster” and players are designated as “Pokémon Trainers” whose goal is to collect all the available Pokémon species and train them to fight against other Pokémon trainers. The new Pokémon Go app is more about collecting the fictional creatures and less geared towards the battles, however, there are “gyms” all over the place where you can battle against others. (We recently had to stop at one of these “gyms” as we were driving so my son could do battle).
The game is hugely popular with millennials who grew up with the video game, collected the trading cards and remember the cartoon they used to watch religiously. But it is also immensely popular with others who never knew about Pokémon before but are just addicted to the game-play and the aspect of collecting and trying to find those “rare” creatures that can be very elusive.
Pokémon Go! is free to download and play, but you can layer on premium features for a fee, and this is where the money is made for Nintendo and the other companies that control the franchise. There have been over 75 million downloads so far since the game was released in early July and probably a lot more than that by the time you read this. It also has a lot of social media tie-ins that have helped the game go viral in such a short time.
So how are businesses getting in on the act and profiting from all this?
The game centers around a real world map with various locations marked as PokéStops. These locations can be local landmarks, art installations, churches, murals, and some businesses. Not every business has a stop, and there’s currently no way to add or remove them, so it’s luck of the draw what businesses are able to take advantage of the game.
When you play the game, you can see PokéStops on the map from some distance away. However, for the low cost of about $2 an hour, players can purchase lure modules to install in a stop. These modules last for 30 minutes at a time and turn the stop into a beacon. This beacon attracts both players and Pokémon to the area, as well as making it light up on the map.
That’s where clever businesses come in. For those businesses lucky enough to be within the range of a PokéStop, or to have one for their business itself, it’s a simple matter to pay a few bucks, stack up modules for the day, and draw in customers from around the area. There are countless examples of businesses already doing so, and profiting for it.
- L’inizio Pizza Bar in Manhattan have created Pokémon-themed pizzas to go along with their stop. A $10 investment in lure modules led to a 30 percent increase in food and drink sales throughout the weekend. Talk about return on investment!
- An indie clothing store has lured people inside with a visible sign and catchy art.
- Kaleidoscope Café in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania noticed the increase in foot traffic and started offering a 10 percent discount to anyone who showed off their app.
- Best Buy phone outlets are getting in on the craze by promoting more powerful phones for those struggling to run the app.
- The Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden— as well as many other museum and art gallery locations — recognizes that its grounds happens to be full of PokéStops and is encouraging trainers to stop in to take advantage. Reportedly over 60 percent of their visitors one day were playing the game.
- It’s A Grind in California was playing it with a more aggressive stance, offering a fresh lure on their stop for every 15 paid drinks purchased.
As mentioned above, since there is no way to apply to have a PokéStop at your location, many businesses aren’t feeling the love of the apps huge popularity. Future versions of the game may offer this feature, but as of now you just have to be lucky to be near a PokéStop.
Since it has become so popular in such a short amount of time, it has understandably overloaded the game’s network servers and created a number of frustrating down times for players when they cannot play. I have heard some grumbling from my son because of this when it first came out, but a lot less of it recently so they must have corrected the issue with this.
One of the good things to come of this recent phenomena is that it is getting people out walking and moving around quite a bit. You have to be out and about to catch Pokémon. In fact, there are rewards to players for the more miles you walk or bike in a day so it is encouraging people to get away from their televisions and computer screens and to get out and walk, run and bike to catch these virtual creatures.
Is it just a fad, time will tell, but so far it seems to be holding on strong, and it won’t be long until other similar games that feature augmented reality hit the market as well. My guess, is that it is probably here to stay. For me, though, I still would rather walk around the golf course chasing an all too real white ball that is plenty elusive.