The original Pokémon craze in the late 1990s was an international cultural phenomenon. There were card games, computer games, cartoons, TV shows, movies… the ‘gotta catch them all!’ bug-chasing game captured the world’s imagination. It was hoped that a new game, Pokémon Go, launched on the 6th of July in the US, Australia and New Zealand, would ride a wave of nostalgia to success and profit. In a short space of time and just three countries, it has already achieved that and so much more. In the last seven days:
– Pokémon Go has shot to the top of the app charts, reaching the top grossing app spot in just 14 hours, with 15 million downloads and users already spending $1.6 million via iOS on in-app purchases per day.
– It already has more active daily users than both Tinder and Twitter.
– Nintendo, the company that owns Pokémon, added $7 billion to its market stock cap, with shares rising up to 23% in a single day.
– There are already scams, rip-offs and concerns about data collection.
– People (including children) are flocking to inappropriate locations, and people are being asked to take care near government buildings and be respectful elsewhere.
– There are news stories appearing every day that are connected with the app, including robberies, injuries, infidelities, the discovery of dead bodies and international incidents.
It’s worth repeating that this has all happened within a week, and because of an app released in just three countries. What, for Pikachu’s sake, is going on!?
It has been clear right from the start that Pokémon Go is not merely a game or an app, but rather the start of something entirely different – although that’s not strictly true. The app can be classified as an augmented reality game – a concept which has been in existence for quite some time now. It is an application which superimposes a digital display onto a real-world view through your smartphone’s camera in real time (see, for example, Snapchat’s filters or earlier versions of the game concept). What makes Pokémon Go so different is that it puts two giants together –Nintendo and Google (who own Niantic Inc., the company that made the app) to bring the monster-hunting concept (which many fans are already very familiar with) to life. The app uses your phone’s maps, GPS and camera to allow you to find, locate and catch your own monsters and gear – just like the characters in the original story. But instead of moving a character around a computer-generated game world, this all takes place in the real world. Environment-specific monsters can be found in certain areas, such as parks, lakes, deserts, shady corners… and so on.
So, in order to play the game, you need to get out and about. Some believe that there could be unintended health benefits to this, as people have been walking long distances to try to find specific creatures. But this also means a good deal of blundering about, with distracted people glued to their smartphone screens rather than looking where they are going. Because certain items and monsters appear at locations that everyone nearby can see, it’s a tool that could be used by muggers or other criminals to trap the unwary. And of course, because it’s a game where the aim is to ‘catch them all’, it will no doubt lead to conflict and crime – just like it did the first time around.
Despite the sheer number of stories appearing due to this new phenomenon, it’s clear that this is just the tip of the iceberg. The game will eventually be released worldwide. Currently, there are 128 monsters available to catch – from a list of 729. When the game was card-based, the rarest cards priced at $100,000 – what lengths will collectors be forced to go to in order to find the rarest examples in this game? Will we see people travelling to remote international locations just to find a computer generated creature? How will locals react to international travelers wanting to play the game? What effect will such a massively popular game have on the world’s already overloaded phone networks? The answers remain to be seen. What is undeniable, however, is that this is something new, something huge, and something that we could very well look back upon and say – this was the moment things changed.
UPDATE: In the two days since this article was written, the game has launched in Germany and the UK, T-Mobile have offered free unlimited data for US players, two players have fallen down a 50ft cliff, a SECOND dead body has been found, a man has crashed his car into a tree, and Donald Trump has said he wishes he had time to play it.