How could one ever design something like the phenomenon that is known as Pokemon Go? It was launched in Australia, New Zealand and US a week ago and started immediately breaking the roof. More daily active users than Tinder and Twitter, longer usage times than Facebook and Instagram and other social medias. #1 grossing app in US immediately after the launch and Pokemon Company’s stock price sky rocketed.
But what is Pokemon Go all about and how is it different from hundreds and hundreds of games launched all the time? There are couple of major factors that I couldn’t have believed until I witnessed it all with my own eyes.
It’s not just gamers – it’s everybody
There are a lot of games with a strong and large gaming community. But gamers are quite a small piece of the population and even the biggest communities don’t really make a dent in the universe. Maybe the launch and hype of Angry Birds caused longer bathroom breaks at work but it was still rather contained.
I’ve talked this week with multiple people who don’t care about Pokemon or haven’t really ever played games and they are going absolutely nuts about Pokemon Go. It has touched such an amazing huge crowd and brought gaming to coffee table discussions. Much like Tamagotchi did in the 90s.
I love it. Finally my almost 20 years of experience in Pokemon is a popular main stream discussion topic
People coming together
One of the very differentiating factor of Pokemon Go is the way it brings people together. The gaming community is filled with stories of marriages started in World of Warcraft and friendships started in online games and forums. I have met many incredible people through games like Halo 2 and some of them have become life-long friends. But it’s been a minority of a minority.
Pokemon Go is doing this on a massive scale. It’s a real life massive multiplayer game with such a strong physical location emphasis that it forces people to get out of the door and interact with the world. Just today alone, I’ve witnessed couples strolling around together catching Pokemon, random people talking to each other and making new friends (and foes, there are teams! I’m obviously part of Team Instinct, led by the Battery Jesus Zapdos).
It has also been a huge inspiration for memes. Imgur and Reddit – and through them – other social media is filled with Go memes.
Pokemon Go itself doesn’t have any chat options right now, so communities are starting elsewhere. People are posting to Facebook, Telegram and Whatsapp about locations of rare Pokemons, taunt each other’s teams and plan going to catch Pokemon together.
New opportunities and healthier life
Vox wrote about the economical problems that products like Pokemon Go (and Vox itself…) cause. What they write about is about a bigger picture caused by digitalization and globalization but the reality is that local companies have been really fast at picking up the benefits of Pokemon Go. Putting out a lure (to attract Pokemon and hence trainers) and special prices can increase your sales in the first days of hype significantly.
I thought this was a fun gimmick until I actually faced it myself. While catching my first Hypno in a local park, I ended up chatting with a ice cream stall guy who told me they are putting lures there to get players to buy ice cream. We are not a big city but it’s still already affecting businesses and operations in a way we haven’t seen before.
Another difference Pokemon Go is making is getting people up from the sofas and out there. To capture Pokemon and hatch eggs, you need to walk. A lot. My friends are already telling their stories of how they ended up walking for 5 or 10 miles just for Pokemon. Today, I took a bus downtown, walked around for few hours catching new Pokemon and after getting a bus back, I found out there was a Squirtle near by. I ended up walking around for 1,5 hours more just trying to find him. I didn’t but I got a good extra walk before hitting the bed.
Captivating nature of Pokemon Go can also help people overcome different difficulties. Elizabeth Barnes wrote about his autistic son who found new excitement in his life through Pokemon Go. “The boy who fantasized about his whole summer being in front of his computer was voluntarily outside walking around.”, Barnes writes.
Overnight success that took 20 years
Pokemon Go is one of those things that came out of nowhere and became an instant hit. But like all good overnight successes, it took couple of decades to come to live. And those two decades were filled with two stories going side by side.
One of these stories is obviously of Nintendo’s and Pokemon’s. Pokemon is celebrating its 20th anniversary and it has built amazing following and fan base that I’m a proud member of. I play video games, I play trading card game, I watch the anime and now I’m hooked with Pokemon Go. Throughout the years they’ve been able to keep people interested and build up a community that many are jealous of.
Another story is of John Hanke’s. Roger Hamilton shared John’s story in AR games and Google and eventually Niantic Labs (creators of Pokemon Go) that also took 20 years.
Will it last?
The start has been phenomenal. Kicking Twitter’s and Tinder’s butt isn’t an easy task and Pokemon Go is suffering a lot of bugs, glitches and server issues even thought it’s not even officially launched in Europe (Germany got it today so there’s hope for a soonish launch elsewhere too). How long can they keep people engaged if they aren’t able to fix the issues? I believe big amount of people will forget the game in a few weeks anyway and having these kind of issues will definitely make it even harder.
The biggest hype will most likely die soon. I hope it doesn’t die too fast as I love meeting new people and chatting with strangers who are out there finding new Pokemon and new adventures. And I’m super happy it’s finally ok to be a Pokemon fan publicly. And having so many new people introduced to Pokemon games hopefully grows the VG and TCG communities as well – those are where I’m most at home.