The world is full of Pokemon. That’s all thanks to the rapid rise of the Pokemon Go mobile app which overlays digital Pokemon on top of the the real world. Independent of the mainstream craze that the app has fostered, it offers a very interesting take on the potential and opportunities of location-based gaming.
The Pokemon Go mobile application builds off the foundation for location-based experiences built by companies like Foursquare and SCVNGR. Whereas the Foursquare check-in mechanic and the SCVNGR “challenge” model failed to catch on with a large audience of users, Pokemon Go has captured lightning in a bottle.
At its core, Pokemon Go is driven by a single action – capturing Pokemon by swiping your finger across the screen. Yes, there are PokeStops, PokeGyms, and player vs. player battles, but the app experience is dominated by a single finger swipe. This is the brilliance of the Pokemon Go app. What makes the experience feel different every time is the breadth of Pokemon you can catch, the “new” feeling every time a Pokemon becomes visible in the real world, and the way locations are blended into the game experience.
What’s even more exciting is how the app facilitates real world exploration. It has been a boon for small business operators, with stories of savvy restaurateurs taking advantage of their proximity to PokeStops and PokeGyms. Some small business owners are even using items purchased inside the app to “lure” Pokemon to their locations. This, of course, draws players to their venues, who in turn can be marketed to in unique ways.
I have worked in and around the location-based gaming space for a number of years. From my time at Screach to my team’s development of the mobile app Loodo, we endeavored to make locations interactive through location-based trivia, sweepstakes, sports pick-em’ games, and other challenges. We tried to convince locations to make these games “discoverable” in their locations with varying levels of success. Ultimately, as Pokemon Go proves, business owners will get involved when you can show them that you have a built-in, growing audience. Even though it seems like a natural progression, location owners are not very motivated to promote your app in their venues to build an audience that will eventually benefit their business.
I think there are a number of games and experiences that could follow the Pokemon Go model. Using locations as gaming landmarks can facilitate unique experiences, which, with a large enough audience, would motivate small business owners to participate in a meaningful way. Through my experiences with Screach and Loodo, I have learned that app audiences must be strong enough to exist outside of key locations to then enrich the guest experiences within them.