If you had told me in the ‘90s that a “real-world” version of the Pokemon game would be the most downloaded thing in the summer of 2016–on mobile phones, at that–I would’ve laughed it off and gone back to browsing through my POG collection.
However, Pokemon Go’s augmented reality game is currently at the top of the app store–overloading servers, distracting us at traffic lights, and wreaking havoc on office productivity. While this is far from Pokemon and Nintendo’s first dance with fan fervor, it’s a unique case. Sure, there’s been hype in the past over traditional game releases, new consoles, and even movie franchises, but this marks the first time for both companies that the commotion centers on a mobile app operating with augmented reality…
Why AR Works So Well And Who Should Be Using It
Although Snapchat has already been using a form of AR in its filters, it’s on a less interactive level than that of Pokemon Go. Up until this point in history, augmented reality has enjoyed success primarily in niche markets, performing highly specialized functions. Some of its prominent commercial uses include in-store makeup trials, clothing-app fitting, filters (like those of Snapchat), and the location-based enhancement of historical landmarks.
You’ll undoubtedly hear that the case made for AR (and VR, for that matter), is that it gives a participatory aspect to content marketing, as opposed to audiences passively watching videos. The active engagement translates to consumers choosing to involve themselves in the experience, which in the end, produces a more lasting impression on the brain.
However, in a world full of one-off marketing gimmicks, most brands should pause before investing in AR just yet. As in the case of Pokemon Go, AR is most successful when paired with a company that not only has an established culture built around it (some say the Pokemon franchise embodies a lifestyle), but can integrate it seamlessly into its branding.
If you should know anything about Pokemon, it’s that the game is centered around throwing a ball to “capture” a wide array of monsters, making gameplay quite intuitive for a generation of mobile phone users already accustomed to pointing and “flicking.” The signature movement portrayed in movies and cartoons is easily imitated by the now-natural, everyday hand movements we use for mobile gaming.
Also critical: the game’s social aspect. In the case of Go, this is built-in; Pokemon has always been about a community of players embarking on the same quest, encouraging players to socialize and come together to form alliances. By integrating one’s natural surroundings into the game, it’s always possible (and probably beneficial) to meet up with fellow players. Businesses also jump onto the bandwagon, as becoming a “sponsored” location within the game allows them to lure players with power ups (in the hopes of spending time and money, while playing).
Being an international mainstay in the gaming and toy industries for the past 21 years doesn’t hurt, either. The hugely successful app is a natural fit for the franchise because it fulfills a long-time fantasy of players since the very beginning: the ability to finally bring the gameplay to the (virtually) real world. Add in social media mentions, screenshots, memes, and articles to the mix, and it’s a tour de force.
Some will allude to a sudden boom in similar uses of AR, with businesses catering to make their locations more immersive and compatible with AR apps; they would need to clear the high hurdles before them, though. Sure, there’s less equipment than VR to operate with, but AR still requires users to download an app in order to utilize the tech– an obstacle to conquer, in itself. With an already-established massive following, a seamless transition into gameplay, and a naturally social aspect, this obstacle was easily clearable by Go. Replicating their results would require a very similar set of conditions. Alternatively, niche markets that can fit the tech into everyday utility like in-store makeup-testing mirrors, can also find success, just on a smaller scale. It may not be as wildly successful as Go’s 7.5M downloads, but hey, you can’t catch ‘em all…