Commentary

Pokemon Go Kicks Off AR

By now everyone has probably heard of Pokemon GO. The game, a partnership between Nintendo and Niantic (creators of Ingress), is Nintendo’s first foray of itsIP into the mobile game space, and it has been a resounding success. It’s also going to be kicking off a major investment into augmented reality content.

Pokemon GO probably started when Google did an April Fools Pokemon integration to Google Maps in 2014. At the time, Niantic was part of Google and had just released it’s “go out in the real world” game Ingress on Android (Dec 2013), and was working on the iOS release. The popularity of the April Fools’ stunt very likely gave rise to the idea of putting two and two together to make Pokemon GO. The result has blown away everyone’s expectations.

Nintendo’s stock shot up after the release (by roughly $7.5 billion over two days), and the game became the best-selling mobile game almost overnight, dethroning entrenched mobile studios that spend large sums on competing for those top-grossing spots.

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The success is easy to understand. Initially, the Pokemon brand provided for the initial large number of downloads. But from that inception point on out, the success is largely the result of the augmented reality component: namely that “seeing” the Pokemon in the real world to catch them is an easily recognizable behavior, so people that weren’t playing the game were observing others acting like crazy people trekking about engrossed on their phones. And journalists took notice.

The free press coverage Pokemon GO has received is probably at least in the tens of millions of dollars of equivalent media spend.

It’s easy to understand the draw. People going out of their way to catch virtual pokemon that appear to exist in the real world all around us is an amazing story to fill a public interest spot. And once the initial stories about the existence of this strange behavior started to die off, we were suddenly “gifted” with all sorts of stories of extreme examples of that behavior, from driving while playing, being hit by a car, or falling off a cliff.

All of the stories about Pokemon GO point to the need for dedicated augmented-reality glasses. Certainly augmented reality is a very exciting technology that captures the imagination, but constraining the experience to a five-inch screen is causing a lot of problems.

Given the success of Pokemon GO, I can guarantee a massive investment in new AR content will be happening over the next year. This game has broken through from niche to mainstream almost overnight, and has provided a major kickoff to more AR content. With that content will come hardware as well.

Video of the week: Pokemon GO Stampede in Central Park

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