By now, you’ve heard of Pokémon Go and you’re likely in one of three buckets: 1) completely addicted 2) totally confused or 3) resisting to join the craze for any number of personal reasons. All three categories are completely understandable; after all, not all of us grew up watching the original cartoon next to a stuffed animal Pikachu, playing each new version of the Game Boy games, and battling in the Official Pokémon Trading Card league at the mall on Saturday mornings (that may be a self-reference). Here’s the bad news. I can’t help you if the addiction is taking over your life. However, I can help you to understand the basic premise of the game, the significance behind its virality, how you can leverage Pokémon Go in your marketing strategy, and why you absolutely should.
What Is Pokémon Go & How Does it Work?
The basis of the Pokémon storyline has not evolved much since its advent. However, instead of taking place in a fictional world, as Pokémon games of the past have, Pokémon Go is set in the reality of the physical world around you. As you move in real life, your avatar moves along with you on a stylized version of a real-world, Google-powered map. You may only interact with particular elements of the game if you are within a close geographical radius of them. Pokemon appear on the map as you walk and, as you capture them, appear as an animated overlay on your phone’s camera screen; this creates the illusion of a Pokémon before your very eyes in the space immediately before you. This technology, which incorporates a computer-generated image into a user’s view of reality, is called augmented reality.
You begin your journey as a trainer who is destined to capture and train all 151 Pokémon, fictional creatures, of differing types such as water, ghost, fire, or grass Pokémon, etc. At the onset of gameplay, you must choose to join the Red, Blue, or Yellow team–each of which represent a different philosophy toward Pokémon and their strengths. You gain experience as a trainer, and therefore level up, by completing the following actions:
Each Pokémon you capture earns you experience points. Capturing a new Pokémon for the first time earns you extra experience points, which helps you level up faster.
Collect Items at Pokéstops
Pokéstops are designated on the game’s map as a blue Poké Ball symbol. Pokéstops as located by landmarks & notable locations of interest. You cannot create new Pokéstops–only visit existing ones. Pokéstops provide you with the important in-game items necessary to enhance gameplay. You can collect items from any single Pokéstop daily, but only if you are in close enough proximity to one. The only other way to obtain these items is to pay with coins, which can be purchased in the app with real money.
Battle & Train your Pokémon
You can train your Pokémon at Gyms, which are represented on the map by towering structures. Any given gym is colored by the color of the team–red, blue, or yellow–that is its reigning victor. Trainers and teams work together to takeover as many gyms as possible.
Evolve your Pokémon
While many Pokémon in the game can evolve, not all of them do. Think of evolution as a hierarchy of stages a Pokémon can occupy; each succeeding stage takes on a different visual form of the original Pokémon and a greater level of strength. Since some Pokémon cannot be caught in the wild in an evolved state, it becomes necessary to evolve some yourself.
A Pokémon egg is one of the items you can obtain at a Pokéstop. In order to hatch it, you must acquire an incubator (also obtained at a Pokéstop or purchased within the app), place your egg inside, and walk 5 km. The app knows if you’re in a car so don’t try to fool it. Once you’ve traveled the allotted distance, your egg will hatch into a Pokémon that is perhaps rare, or more difficult to obtain in the locations you typically frequent.
The ultimate objective is to become a Pokémon master by collecting all 151 Pokémon, controlling gyms, and becoming stronger than other trainers and teams.
Why Does Pokémon Go Matter?
Pokémon Go is not the first location-based, multi-player, mobile Augmented Reality (AR) game of its kind. In fact, Niantic Labs, the company who developed it, released another mobile AR game called Ingress four years ago. You can find out more about the two games’ similarities and differences in this excellent article, but here’s a summary: gameplay is less dependent on the need for other players in Pokémon Go, but more organized in Ingress. Pokémon Go also presents more activities for users to accomplish while Ingress is more adept at identifying activities for users. We have Ingress to thank for the extent of real-world locations represented in Pokémon Go; infomation and pictures of points of interests have been supplied by Ingress players over the years and collected in an online database of data which Pokémon Go utilizes.
Pokémon Go is, however, the first mobile AR game of its kind to attract masses of players through the nostalgia of childhood Pokémon memories. Combine the familiar, beloved world of Pokémon, the first augmented reality gaming experience for a majority of its users, and the desire to be “on trend,” and you’ll start to see why this game has become a viral sensation since its release earlier this July.
Now, let’s back up to the phrase “masses of players.” Over 15 million users have downloaded the app already, and this staggering figure is only growing. The sheer size of such an audience, a majority of whom are millennials or even younger members of Generation Z, is a highly desirable target market for businesses of any size. Even if marketers can’t catch ‘em all, acquiring even a sliver of this market is a profitable conquest. Plus, the opportunity to capitalize on a trend of this magnitude is rarer than coming across a MewTwo.
Maybe you’re wondering why Pokémon Go differs from any other fad, or you’re weary to put marketing effort and budget behind it. The differentiator is its location-based premise. The location of Pokéstops and gyms, along with the general availability of Pokémon to capture, is driving hoards of users to real-life locations. If you’re lucky enough to have one of these in-game landmarks close enough to your business, there’s a way to drive an impressive amount of foot traffic to your shop at a rate of $1.20 an hour. As a result, small businesses are experiencing a soar in profit like this Queens, NY pizza shop that experienced a 30% increase in food and drink sales.
Beside the popularity of this particular craze, Pokémon Go is a preview of the future of AR, location-based, and eventually virtual reality (VR) games that businesses should start paying attention to. Pokémon Go already has double the downloads of Tinder and more engagement than SnapChat; will your in-store and digital advertising strategy be ready to tackle what comes next?
Stay tuned for Part 2 of our series to learn how to take your marketing to the next level with Pokémon Go–whether your business is close to an in-game landmark or not.
You can follow Natalie on Twitter at @NatalieCullings