Don't be so cynical about Pokemon Go: It's helping people, families, businesses and cities
Game makers Nintendo and Niantic Labs have an unparalleled success on their hands in the form of Pokemon Go. In just one week it's improved Nintendo's stock price by 50 per cent and added $7.5bn to its market value. Its engagement levels have also dwarfed disruptive darlings like Twitter, Tinder and Uber.
The augmented reality smash-hit game has dominated conversation on the web since its debut. A large percentage of that traffics with the negative or scintillating. From trespassing to dead bodies to Daesh to privacy concerns, it's been a mixed bag of PR for Pikachu and friends. And that's not even taking into account the nsfw Tumblrs that have appeared. Do not seek those out.
Then there's the heavy volume of opportunistic advertising thought pieces. These touch on how monetization will poke walk death march everyone into Chipotle. Or how this success will finally mainstream augmented reality after years of false starts. Or how this is milennials' first drink from the poisoned chalice of nostalgia marketing. Or how other franchises are ripe for similar experiences.
And while those statements are all likely true they're not the most interesting observations. For every ten salacious or cynical stories there's one optimistic point of view. Let’s take a look at some of the positives.
Players have taken to social media to express their delight in real world discoveries. In their quest to "catch 'em all" people have explored areas off their beaten paths. Twitter was full of people enjoying Korean pagodas, historic memorials and more. Many, if not all, for the first time. They had no idea these locations were in their hometowns.
This appreciation is part of the game's DNA. The game's map comes from Niantic's prior, lesser-known effort Ingress. In its guidelines it highlights "locations with cool stories, cool architecture or hidden gems". Some of those gems are so hidden that they're not even on Google Maps. Powering up in a PokeStop or doing battle in a Gym may actually teach you a thing or two.
While some groups on Reddit are hives of scum and villainy, r/pokemongo seems harmless. Amongst the player chatter there is interesting conversation between small business owners. They're discussing different ways to use the game to improve foot traffic and sales. One of the game's mechanics is using Lures to attract Pokemon to locations like PokeStops. A Lure costs a nominal amount of in-game currency that can be purchased for minimal amounts of real cash.
A drive-in restaurant used Lures and Facebook updates to have its busiest day of the year. A brew house that was fortunate enough to be a gym in the game is offering discounts to players that control the spot. The stories go on and on from guitar shops to ice cream parlors to kids' lemonade stands.
If all this running around collecting stuff sounds like geocaching, then you're right. And like that pastime, parents are seeing it as a way to spend time with their kids and get them active. Think of it as the gamification of family time.
Some families are planning Poke walks after dinner. Others are making family outings out of trips to the grocery store and other parental errands. Science and children's museums are even getting in on the action to add more fun to their venues. Odds are your Facebook feed will soon be full of snapshots of parents and kids posing with their Pokemon. Assuming it isn't already that is.
Besides PokeStops, Gyms and Lures another game mechanic to be aware of is incubation. Incubating or hatching your eggs requires walking anywhere from one to six miles. Naturally the more ground you cover the more rare or powerful your Pokemon will be when it hatches.
Clearly, it's hard to quantify how much exercise is thanks to Pokemon Go. That said, there are interesting indicators. Wearables like the Apple Watch and Jawbone have both reported upticks after the launch. Twitter is gushing about the game as a solution to the obesity crisis. And while that's definite hyperbole there's some truth to the "Pokemon workout" meme.
Listen, I'm hype-allergic just like you. My inclination is to shake my fists at the screen over this sort of thing too. I get it. I really do. Believe me.
There are lots of questions worth asking. Will people actually change behaviours and get long-term health benefits out of this? Will small businesses see a prolonged boost in sales and traffic? Will families continue to enjoy time together? Will people ever revisit these new spots?
Who knows? Probably not. But for now they are. And that's worth celebrating. Don't be such a grouch.
Daniel Harvey is experience design director at SapientNitro