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GOTTA CATCH ‘EM ALL: THE RETURN OF PIKACHU AND THE POKÉMON CRAZE

Pokémon. A word synonymous with the 1990s, Japanese card games, and a little yellow rodent that has the powers of electric shock. Who would've thought that in the age of virtual reality, imminent space travel, and fully electric vehicles, that a throwback like this one would make such a splash, both in the gaming world and culturally, as well? Well, thank Nintendo, since Pokémon Go is now available for Apple and Android and according to TechCrunch, has seen over 7.5 million downloads since the release less than one week ago.

 

What is Pokémon Go? How do you play?

 

An updated gaming interface, Pokémon Go is an app that allows users to catch and train Pokémon, battle other users, and become a Pokémon Master. Using all of the same Pokémon from the original series, the app uses your phone’s GPS and geocaching to detect your location in the game, making animals appear, through augmented reality, in your area. Depending on your location and time of day, different Pokémon will appear. Users can cultivate a roster of their companions, evolve their Pokémon and even send them to Professor Willow, a mentor-like character, when they have too many critters or want to exchange them for powerups.

Why is it SO popular?

 

Anyone who was born in the late 80’s or 90’s understands the craze. But to those later and earlier than those decades - it might be hard to understand why such a rabid fanaticism came out of nowhere. There are a couple of reasons why over 7.5 million people have downloaded it, the first being that the game is free. There are minimal in-app purchases, no download fees and very few ways for wealthier players to “buy” their way up. It’s all about how much you play and how into it you are. Secondly, it’s nostalgic! Who doesn’t feel like a kid again, indulging in a fun game that reminds us of living in a time that was a little simpler - when our biggest concerns where which Pokémon cards we got in the silver, cellophane wrapped packages? And thirdly, while it’s nostalgic, it’s also futuristic at the same time. The game’s interface allows users to see Pokémon as if they were standing on the street right in front of the player, which is a realization of every Pokémon lover’s dreams; a Charmander popping up on the sidewalk while you walk to work. Pokémon Go utilizes a well-rounded strategy of indulgent, nostalgic fun, with little monetary consequence to play.

Screenshots of gameplay, including the map interface that users can view to find Pokéstops, and the process of catching a wild Pokémon (the turtle-like creature featured is “Squirtle”).

 

Photo Courtesy of Totally The Bomb

Business Aspects

 

How does Pokemon, a twenty-year-old videogame powered by the nostalgia and adventurous spirit of nineties kids, help business? The answer is simple: the release and subsequent spread of Pokemon Go (Nintendo’s first foray into the application market) has created a surefire way to immediately reach anyone in America under twenty with a smartphone. In the first five days of release, the app skyrocketed to the top of both the Google Play Store and Apple App Store. Similarweb, a site that tracks web traffic and app downloads estimates that 60% of Android users are logging in for an average of 43 minutes daily, and that by the third day of availability, approximately 5.16% of all smartphone users in America had downloaded the app. Pokemon Go had in just two days surpassed Tinder in downloads and nearly matched Facebook in daily user use times. This app is on fire. And luckily for businesses, it works via locations.

A wild Doduo appears at Integrate intern Kate’s desk!

The best part: Pokemon Go creates a virtual version of your city’s map, including local hotspots. The game has recorded hundreds of thousand of locations in America as “Poke-Stops,” which reward players just for visiting them. Additionally, anyone can use a small In-App Purchase to place a “lure” at one of these Poke-Stops, which will attract pokemon to that location for anyone who comes and visits. All of this adds up to a really cheap and fun way for any restaurant, bar, arcade, etc. to bring in customers.

 

Using GPS and geocaching, the Pokémon map is a lively, interactive display that allows users to track their movements in accordance to nearby Pokémon and Pokéstops. The circular beacons flag the player that they’re close enough to check-in at a Pokéstop. The larger, more colorful pins signify gyms, where trainers can battle other users with the wild Pokémon they’ve captured.

 

Photo Courtesy of Pokémon Crossroads

 

 

Even Integrate clients have started capitalizing on this craze. Dave & Buster’s Friendswood launched a Pokémon campaign, promoting its new status as a local “Pokéstop,” where users check-in and receive items like Pokéballs, Potions and Eggs, (the latter hatch into Pokémon after walking a certain distance.) People eat this up, and not just millennials. Pokémon Go is reaching businesspeople, politicians, construction workers: the interface is easy enough that once users are acclimated to the game, leveling up and catching wild critters are as easy as a single flick of the finger.

 

Photos Courtesy of Dave & Buster's Friendswood

The Bad

 

While there are a variety of reasons why Pokémon Go is a perfect way to stay entertained for hours, and even help with businesses looking to engage with their potential consumers, many have already pointed out the headlines that have attributed robberies and even deaths to the game. In Missouri, teens used the app’s location-based check-ins, or Pokéstops, to rob roughly 10 victims, and a player was shot and killed after trespassing on private property. Some players have commented that the game needs more safeguards, like a speed cap to stop gamers from playing in the car, while others believe that creating Pokéstops at private residences are a beacon for trouble. While homeowners like Boon Sheridan are more bemused than anything else by the situation, there is a serious aspect of trespassing that needs to be addressed. Jr. Social Media Account Executive Marshall Shaffer, who is currently batting team No-Poké-Go, had some strong words regarding the kitchy aspect of Pokémon Go, and the potential perils that businesses might face when opting to integrate and engage the game in their consumer-focused strategies.

 

“Our culture is definitely going through a big '90s obsession at the moment that goes far beyond a BuzzFeed listicle with a title like ‘13 Songs You Totally Forgot From The Summer of 1998.’" I get the appeal of returning to what feels like one of the few breathers in the modern era - post-Cold War, pre-9/11. But on another level, we must be cautious about yielding too much to these impulses that place an idealized past on a pedestal. If nostalgia becomes our dominant mode of thinking, at some point we will run out of memories to be nostalgic for. And then what?”

In Short:

 

Pokémon Go is a well-designed game with inherent ties to those between the ages of 20-35. It’s nostalgic, yet futuristic interface allows Pokémon Trainers to catch the critters in the “wild,” i.e. on every street corner and at local Pokéstops in your city. While lacking in certain security aspects, the app will update over time to fix the bugs and kinks that a first release usually has.

 

With such a strong following, the business potential is apparent; some bars have begun to use “lures” in the game to attract Pokémon to their haunts, which means an increase in Pokémon trainers, as well. But, like all gambles with high rewards, the risks are heavy as well - no one wants to come off like that Microsoft recruiter, desperate to engage with the millennial generation. Maybe just an addictive app, or maybe a tool for businesses to engage a younger generation. Only time will tell! We’re excited to see how this battle plays out.

© 2016 Integrate Agency