Pokemon Go: Joy, Exercise, and the Biggest Digital Marketing Opportunity Ever?

 

The waves of the rising tide lap quietly at the dry sand in the clear darkness of a starry night. Black and infinite, the sea is nearly asleep like most of the residents in the dark houses that stud the beach of southern Brittany. Cold sand touches our toes from the edges of our flip flops. We are not asleep. We are out and about. We are playing Pokemon GoPokeball

It’s only been four days since I downloaded the application. I wanted to try it in the US but with a European phone data roaming of that quantity was impossible. Once we got back to French I opened the App Store. I had read the stories: traffic jams caused by Pokemon Go players trying to catch a rare Pokemon on the highway. Some guy who fell off a cliff and died. People breaking things on other peoples’ property. The value of the entire company of Nintendo skyrocketing. The app of the year.

App of the year or spectacular fad? I’m old enough to remember my younger brothers play Pokemon – in actual, physical, non-augmented reality card version. My brother proudly showed me some of his rarest cards when I was home. He had been playing Pokemon Go for a while already along with the rest of the world. The cards are worth hundreds if not thousands right now. Nostalgia, it seems, is a powerful force.

I know enough about Pokemon to recognize some of the more iconic ones, but I don’t know how battling works, I don’t know about evolving Pokemon – I never actually played with the cards when I was a teenager. The nostalgia effect for me is null.

Which is why I am amazed by how much I love playing Pokemon Go. It speaks to the merits of the game that someone who thought Pokemon was some tween geekery in the 90’s would be itching to get outside and walk, just to see what Pokemon show up.

The integration with the real world is amazing. The map when I’m at my wife’s family’s summer place shows her brother’s bathroom annex on his house next door, it’s maybe 5 square meters. The trail that runs along the rocks and under the tall pines of the coast past St. Jacques is clearly marked. I caught a Pigeotto there yesterday.

The Pokestores are along the port, with one being on the lighthouse at the end of the peer. Groups of kids walk up and down that pier every day, with phones illuminated spinning the store coin and collecting pokeballs and other goodies.

By placing the stores and training areas in physical places, Pokemon Go adds an entirely new dimension to gaming. Pokemon Go is not some map like Call of Duty or some island like a Mario Brothers classic, but the honest-to-goodness Earth. By choosing interesting locations for the pokestores like war monuments and lighthouses, Niantic – the company that actually made the game – is encouraging hundreds of millions of people to go out and explore the places where they live. How does your character move? You walk.

I used to love video games, but I stopped with the N64. Goldeneye and Super Smash Brothers were really the end for me. I never spent enough time trying to learn a PS-whatever or the latest Xbox. There were too many buttons. Wii came out after I was in my 20s. Never played Guitar Hero or any of the PC multi-player games like Warcraft of Starwars. The problem was simple: it was too much sitting inside.

Pokemon Go is the opposite. It requires almost no skill to play, with one motion – the flick to throw your pokeballs – and you walk. Last night was the second night in a row that my wife and I set off for a walk after dinner in the twilight to catch Pokemon, something we probably wouldn’t have done if we didn’t have Pokemon Go. We’re outside, in the real world, playing a video game with that world.

Will Pokemon Go be just an incredible fad? Will it be the one-hit wonder of the ages, with a fall as quick as its rise? That’s hard to say, but what we can see is that the power or augmented reality games is strong, and there are many more things coming over the horizon.

Witness one of the coolest things I’ve seen in gaming. As a fan of laser tag and capture the flag, I had to collect my jaw from the floor after I saw this video of Father.io. It’s a massive open online game where you clip a special sensor to your smartphone, form teams, and the game begins. Your smartphone is now the equivalent of a laser tag gun, when you look through your phone screen you are in augmented reality, complete with machine guns and the ability to see other players and how healthy they are. It’s a first-person shooter where you are the first person and everyone else are the real people playing around you. Just watch the video and tell me it’s not one of the coolest things you’ve ever seen in gaming.

One of the biggest digital marketing opportunities ever?

The digital marketer in me has a hard time keeping silent, and it’s making me wonder what the potential could be if Pokemon Go continues to surf the wave of popularity? If we assume that it doesn’t fall flat on its colorful face, imagine if Niantic sold the locations of the stores to, say, Carrefour, and made all of the Pokestores inside (or next to) each and every Carrefour? Fans of the game have to physically go there for certain virtual things, they will inevitably buy the real things they need for their life too while they are there.

Or have companies sponsor certain Pokemon so the only place they can capture them is in their stores. Like you can only find a Mewtwo at your local Gap. It would represent a totally unheralded marketing opportunity unlike anything we’ve seen – getting people to a physical location without needed to sell them on particular products or deals.

Yeah, I know, and before you say it I will: people might be immediately turned off by that sort of marketing. But show me a type of marketing that doesn’t turn some people off? What’s the difference for me if my nearest Pokestore is the church by my house or the Monoprix down the street? If I’m into the game, I’m going there.

Pokemon Go has already achieved enormous success, which would make a sudden failure all the more memorable. But if the brilliant minds behind it can successfully roll out more and more versions with battling, trading and more, our world will continue to be populated by virtual fantasy beasts and I will continue to be out walking – and sometimes running – to catch them all.

 

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