I never imagined virtual characters from my childhood in the 90s would be game changers for the 21st century consumer entertainment industry. Hard to believe; but we are currently witnessing a digital revolution brought about by a game involving ‘pocket monsters’ – Pokémon Go. Of course, Pokémon Go may seem childish or insignificant to many people, but there’s no denying it is more than just a game. Pokémon Go is a revolution – a revolution that familiarizes the promising technology of augmented reality to the global masses. Here, we shall look into how Pokémon make a successful comeback sparking an unexpected mindfulness of AR technology.
Why Augmented Reality Failed Before
‘Augmented reality’, or simply ‘AR’, is technology that superimposes the virtual world with the real world. In simple terms, AR overlays digital (virtual) images on user’s view of the actual world. The technology has been around since 1990’s, and the 21st century witnesses many promising developments such as Google Glass, HoloLens and other AR glasses, which you can find here. However, these innovations seem to affect only small factions of the population and fail to mass market the technology to a larger population. Take the example of Google Glass and Microsoft’s HoloLens – in spite of their thundering arrival; we can’t say that they succeed in promoting an AR culture among general people. . One reason can be the cost of these gadgets and in some way – their limited features and inattention of the general population. Augmented reality apps for smartphones and even games similar to Pokémon Go (remember Ingress?) were released; but they barely made any headlines.
Niantic, the same company that brought us Pokémon Go, had previously released a game – ‘Ingress’ in 2012 for Android and in 2014 for iOS. Ingress, like Pokémon Go, is location-based entertainment, which also implement features of AR. Although it latched up over 11 million downloads, dedicated players are few and the game has little impact on AR technology. Niantic didn’t give up with Ingress and instead came up with a new idea to popularize their concept – reviving the well-loved pocket monsters.
Behind Pokémon’s Comeback
With its first release in 1996 for Nintendo’s Game Boy as Pokémon Red and Green versions, Pokémon has been among the favorites series of major youth populations around the globe. This was followed by release of other versions and eventually movies, playing cards, manga series and computer games, adding to the growth of the Pokémon franchise. Although the global hits died down in the last decade, new Pokémon versions were still released in 2014, and Nintendo plans to release more this year. In April 2014, Satoru Iwata of Nintendo and Tsunekazu Ishihara of The Pokémon Company jointly proposed the concept of Pokémon Go. Then, in 2015, Niantic Inc. announced that they are working on the Pokémon Go app for both Android and iOS in partnership with Nintendo and The Pokémon Company. The beta version of the app was released in few countries during March and April of this year. The first launch of the Pokémon Go app was on 6th July in selected countries and until now majority of the countries have Pokémon Go launched in their region.
Until 6th August 2016, over 100 million downloads of Pokémon Go app was counted in Google Play alone. What makes this possible? Well, the right combination of several elements – both technological and psychological, we can say. The following points are worth consideration:
• The Pokémon Go game is location-based and users are required to get out of their seat. It’s no typical game.
• The AR feature the app offers is one of the main attraction for users all over the world as for many users, playing Pokémon Go was their first ever AR experience.
• Most smartphone users can access their AR-enabled Pokémon Go in their Android and iOS devices alone without the need of any additional gadgets or console for AR such as Google Glass.
• Many people who were acquainted with Pokémon media since the 1990’s are tempted to get another experience of the franchise that had given them joy and entertainment in their younger past. This is a kind of psychological effect as people are desirous to explore their nostalgia again.
What Can This Revolution Bring About?
Pokémon Go has now introduced and popularized augmented reality to the world. How will this affect AR’s future? We can’t be sure, but a lot more of AR apps are expected to come up soon. Many people may argue that the game’s popularity will die off in sometime; but the legacy will continue. The game is a shining example of how AR will drive users to interact more with others as well as the world.
With AR apps in our smartphones, we will be able to interact with real-time data like temperature, humidity, shop ratings, etc., in any location just by pointing our smartphones in a direction of our choice. Our shopping system will be modernized, for instance, AR will enable users to see how attires look on them virtually before buying them online. Travel and entertainment agencies will soon consider extending their business not just in the real world but also in the virtual world. Pokémon Go presents this idea with a paid feature called ‘Lure’ that enables restaurants and shops to lure Pokémon for a paid amount of time in their area, thereby attracting more customers for their business. AR is also poised to disrupt academics, enabling more practical and more engaging methods of learning for scholars.
So, the next time someone walks beside you scanning for Pokémon with their smartphone, think about the technology powering the game, and the endless applications that it’s poised to bring to your world.