Unless you’ve been living under a literal rock this last week or so, you have undoubtedly heard about the latest game to go viral: Pokemon Go. This game has acquired more active users in less than a week than Twitter has in the 10 years since its inception and has already caused some very interesting scenes in major parks. But what is Pokemon Go exactly? How do you play it? What makes it so different? And since it’s a free game, how does it make any money? Let’s find out.
If you aren’t familiar, Pokemon the game has been around in plenty of variations since it was first introduced in Japan in 1996 (later coming to North America 2 years later). But the general gist of the game is that there are these tiny creatures that inhabit the world and you are charged by a professor to try and catch as many of them as you can to help him study them. You use special capsules to collect them called Pokeballs and once a Pokemon is caught, you can then train it to become stronger, learn new abilities (even evolve into new Pokemon breeds), and then use them to battle other Pokemon and even other players.
The big difference between all of the previous versions of the game and this current Go version is the use of AR, or augmented reality. The idea being that instead of using a d-pad or joystick to move around the games world to chase the little buggers, you actually, physically move around the real world to progress around the game. The game uses your devices GPS as well as mapping algorithms to place Pokemon, items, gyms (where you can battle other players and train your Pokemon to make them stronger), and other components of the game in your proximity. You walk in real life to have your character move towards objects in the game then when they are in range can tap on them to interact with them (you can see how this game can quickly become a problem if you aren’t paying attention).
The goal ultimately, as the games famous motto says is you “gotta catch ’em all”. The more you get and the stronger you make them the better.
How does a game that is free to download and play make any money? Well, while you don’t absolutely have to, you can purchase PokeCoins, the in-game currency and then use that to buy upgrades from more Pokeballs (items used to catch Pokemon), the Lures and Incense to bring more Pokemon to you, to upgrades to the amount of Pokemon you can carry, and more. You can buy 100 Pokecoins for $0.99, with discounts given the more you buy ($99 will get you 14,500 coins for example).
You might think, “Who would pay for those things?”, but after just this past week or so, Nintendo’s stock has doubled and analysts estimate that the game is making $1.6 million dollars a day just on Apple devices alone. So, um, someone is.
Pokemon isn’t the only ones making money from this game. If your business is close enough to a PokeStop, locations you can swipe at to get items that are usually located at public landmarks, you can pay for items that will literally cause Pokemon Go players to flock to your establishment (no joke, I’ve watched as people, of all ages, staring at their phones, all end up slowly walking towards a cafe, sit down, order a coffee and start frantically flicking at their phones).
Business can use an item called Lures that they can attach to a nearby PokeStop to have it attract Pokemon to it for a 30 min period of time. Any PokeStop with a Lure on it spews pink hearts and every player in the vicinity can easily see it on their game map. Instead of walking around to get Pokemon, they can come have a seat near it and catch them that way. Most businesses put up signs and post to social saying, “dropping Lures all day, come have a drink and catch some Pokemon” and it seems to not only bring players in, but the vast majority of those players buy something. Combine this with Pokemon themed drinks (a charred lemon drink called the Charmander Commander, anyone?) and we’ve got a recipe for a Pokemon Happy Hour.
The sheer number of users, all over the country, in such a short amount of time. I think I’m right in saying (feel free to correct me someone) that this has to be the fastest adoption of any game in history. I went on a drive to upstate New York with some friends and stopping in a small town on the way for coffee managed to watch 3 or 4 people walking down the street frantically flicking at their phones in the matter of 30 mins. Saw a crowd of people hovering by a local burger joint and thought to myself, maybe it’s a really good burger until I looked at the Pokemon Go app and saw the familiar site of a Lure being used at the location.
Beyond that, is the variety of players, I’ve seen teenagers, 20 somethings even late 30 somethings all wandering around NYC flicking at their phones, and beyond that I saw girls. Seriously, girls are playing Pokemon, and my 9 year old self just died.
Even if you hate this game, and will never try it, it is undeniably a revolutionary app that is a testament to ultra connected times we live in.