The Pokemon Go phenomenon

I just caught a Meowth in my neighborhood park and I am thrilled to bits, just like my 8-year old. As were the 6 or so kids around me and a few adults too. If the phenomenon that is Pokemon Go hasn’t swallowed you already, consider yourself warned.

Pokemon Go

Pokemon Go is an addictive Augmented Reality (AR) experience that is built onNiantic‘s Real World Gaming Platform using the popular Pokemon characters. Unlike other mobile games that have varying levels of difficulty based on the gameplay mechanics, this one is super simple. There is really not much of a gameplay, atleast not yet for my Lvl.3 character. All there is to it is the real world hunting of cute little Pokemons. My son and I have been walking around all weekend with my smartphone looking for new Pokemons to capture and level up.

For folks familiar with Niantic’s earlier real world experience, Ingress, Pokemon is not dramatically new. Ingress had its cult audience in its heyday and while I wanted to join it at one time, the invite process and wait discouraged me and soon I moved on. Pokemon Go has no such invite process. You download the app on your GPS enabled smartphone on Android or iOS and setup your profile and you are off hunting.

As someone who has never played one of the very many Pokemon games on Nintendo’s various gaming platforms, this one is super welcoming and simple. It does not expect you to know anything about Pokemons, although it will enhance your experience as you discover familiar monsters.

Pokemon Go was released on July 6th, 2016 as a fully featured product (it was on beta in Japan and other territories since March). Since then it has topped iOS and Android app store charts. The servers are regularly down due to overwhelming demand.

Where does Pokemon Go go from here?

Yes, Pokemon Go could be one of the hundred other fads and fade from memory in a few weeks. It could also become something huge. Something that could give a new breath of life to a struggling Nintendo company and bring AR to the masses much like how Google Cardboard democratized the concept of VR.

There are a bunch of advertising opportunities open for the platform based on specific locations as there is for in-app purchases. Nintendo is planning to release a dedicated hardware product called the Pokemon Go Plus.

To me, the biggest opportunity is for integration with wearable platforms like Android Wear (Niantic spun out of Google last year and Pokemon Go originated as a collaboration between Google and Nintendo) or watchOS or Fitbit to further gamify fitness. Fitness challenges tailored around Pokemon Go could be a great incentive to get people to move. To walk and get exercise- something that would be hugely desirable in a country plagued by the obesity problem. Yes, kids end up watching their phone screens while at the park but here is something I observed an hour ago at my local park- having scrounged every inch of the park for all Pokemons, the kids who had assembled decided they had time to while away and started playing soccer. That to me is a huge deal. That could be a game changer.