Pokémon Go: Game of the future or fad?

By Lindsay Bennett and Pippa Chambers | 25 July 2016
HCF confesses reaching out to Pokémon to try and leverage the app

Pokémon Go has been heavily adopted by a mass audience, including users who are not usual gamers, but will the hype last? This first appeared in AdNews in-print. You'll want to subscribe to our new monthly magazine.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock you know Pokémon fever has gripped the nation. It's arguably the biggest mobile game in history and only continues to gain traction as it rolls out globally.

Since its launch, the augmented reality (AR) game has overtaken Twitter in daily users and Australians are spending more time in it than Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook Messenger, according to data from Sensor Tower.

It's even sparked security concerns both on the safety of users, as gang members set up 'lures' to rob children and people trying to catch them all while driving, and questions have been raised over the data collected by the game's developer, Niantic Labs, through Google.

The power of nostalgia

CEO of mobile media and tech startup Geronimo, Matt Hunt, said the idea itself is “genius” and was bound to happen at some point. However he said the hoopla and popularity will not last at its current level and the hype will die down as people move onto the next popular app or craze.

“Millennials and Gen Y were brought up surrounded by the hype of the original Pokémon craze and they are now the leading force behind smartphone adoption, the two go hand in hand,” Hunt said.

“The hype is not entirely due to the combination of nostalgia and technology, but also about the execution. The game uses multiple popular and enticing aspects of today’s culture including social networking, levelled gameplay - an addictive dynamic, as well as augmented reality and challenging but rewarding obstacles.”

Hitting prime time

Robby Yung, CEO of branded game developer company Animoca Brands, agreed the lifespan of any game is always limited, but it's the technology that is here to stay.

Yung compared the game to other blockbuster apps such as Candy Crush and Angry Birds, which changed the way people interact with games.

“If you look at how Angry Birds changed how people used their mobiles for gaming with the action of swiping, you can see how AR is going to hit prime time thanks to Pokémon,” he said.

CEO of IPG's mobile arm Ansible, Scott Player, said it’s great to see that there is something new and exciting that has unified people so broadly in a fun and interactive way.

“When looking back, every technology/platform has had one main product or service that has helped bring it to the mainstream. For smartphones it was iPhone. For social media it was Facebook. For accommodation, Airbnb. Ridesharing, Uber and so on. Pokémon Go goes a long way to becoming that milestone for AR,” Player said.

Player also agrees that usage of the platform for the average user will drop over time. However he said the key point for him is that Pokémon Go has helped bring a combination of technologies much more mainstream, especially AR, and helped forge a new type of engagement platform combining mobile, geo-location, map-augmentation, gamification and AR.

Will brands kill the appetite?

The term “Pokéconomy” has already been coined to describe how businesses can profit from Pokémon craze. It could signal a wider industry move as Niantic Labs confirmed it will allow companies to pay to have their real-world locations appear on the game's virtual map, with McDonald’s the first brand to roll out sponsored locations in Japan.

McDonald’s Japan confirmed the collaboration, which will mark the first foray into advertising for Pokémon Go. McDonald’s was tipped to be the first brand to get on board after several references to the company and even an image of its logo appeared inside the game’s software code.

The fast food retailer is always an early adopter of technology and has previously dabbled in AR with its own app in Australia, however McDonald’s Australia decline to comment on plans at this stage.

Hunt, said there is yet to be a high demand from clients, as many catch up with the fast paced adoption and hype, but he added that clients are curious to understand the opportunity.

“Conversations are underway with some of our clients as we brainstorm effective ways to activate their brands on the back of the app’s success,” he said. “The main focus at the moment is through social and creative activation. As the topic is heavily trending on social platforms, our clients have been able to generate a great deal of page traffic and interaction through clever, well placed sponsored posts.”

However there is a chance that once brands get involved in the game, they will kill off the appetite.

Player said Ansible, which was formerly Mnet, has discussed the 'Lure' placement and mapping Pokéstop locations back to the game map of the foundation Niantic built the platform on, however advice it has been providing is that any activity must be brand relevant.


To invest or not to invest?

OMD group business director Jonathan Betts who also leads the McDonald’s account believes while a lot of brands are talking about Pokémon in their social environments, such as KFC, Disney and Woolworths, it may not be relevant to invest in the game long-term.

“Whether or not brands should go down the route of engaging with Pokémon comes back to whether there is relevance and authenticity and if it's right for the brand. “There's no doubt that a large part of McDonald's ad spend is about getting people into McDonald's locations, so any technology or different approach that can do that and have a positive impact on the business would be of interest,” Betts said.

Beau Ushay, marketer at digital media company Ziff Davis, agreed with Betts. “Any business can drop a lure on their location and will see an increase in foot traffic. Great in the short term, but those marketers who approach it with a deeper integration in mind, which offers something of value to gamers are the ones who will win out,” he said.

Retail businesses are the best positioned to leverage the locational offering of Pokémon Go.
GPY&R Melbourne set up lures for its chocolateria client, San Chuerro, to attract players to the front doors of the shop.

GPY&R strategic planner Alex Horner said: “Driving footfall is a primary goal for all retail brands and with the use of lures it seems like Pokémon Go could be a great, cost-effective way to get extra people inside stores’ front doors.”

san churro pokemon

Head of digital at Nunn Media, and co-founder of AR app developers, userXmetrics, Elliot Dale, said while client conversations haven't been super prevalent, he has had hundreds of conversations in the past with various clients about AR.

“Most of the ideas in theory were very good. But unfortunately AR wasn’t popular, consumers didn’t want it, and most importantly the tech never used to be good enough,” Dale said.

Is it a game or a social network?

Pokémon Go is something of a chameleon and its mass reach is down to the social nature of the game. The game addresses the shortcomings of the new-age online lifestyle and takes advantage of climbing mobile numbers. Users have even claimed it has helped them fight anxiety and depression by connecting them with other players.

Isobar creative director Carmela Soares told AdNews it taps into the basic functionality of a social network by encouraging spontaneous social interactions in society.

“People are referring to the game as AR, others refer to it as a geo-location based game, but it's actually built more like a social network platform. AR is a small component of it,” she said. “The players have to interact within the city and not just any locations, but local businesses and parks are all mapped out in the game. Users have to start interacting and that’s when you see the evolution of the social approach of the game.”

Ushay agreed: “It makes sense at the dawn of a new age in AR and VR that the next big thing in gaming is coming from mobile. Couple that with an established franchise, with a rich history, colourful characters and an embedded nostalgia factor transcending generations and the appeal is obvious,” he said.

“It’s actually more ‘social’ than social media platforms– players will congregate and talk about characters they’ve caught, nearby gyms, lures and other aspects of the game while out and active,” Ushay said.

It’s not just getting gamers out of the house, but it's pushing gaming mainstream.

Scott Player, CEO of IPG's mobile arm Ansible, agreed. “When looking back, every technology/ platform has had one main product or service that has helped bring it to the mainstream,” he explained. “For smartphones it was iPhone. For social media it was Facebook. For accommodation, Airbnb. Ridesharing, Uber and so on. Pokémon Go goes a long way to becoming that milestone for AR.”

OMD’s Betts said the most fascinating thing about the app is the power of brands in gaming, which has previously been ignored because it’s not the kind of business that suits an advertising budget.

“Nintendo built almost exactly the same thing with the Ingress platform, which is played by a small niche of people, but you take a brand like Pokémon and all of a sudden everyone from school kids to grandmothers are playing it. Gaming is constantly undervalued by the advertising community, but it takes people away from traditional media consumption. It's not the multi–screen experience – it's really focused, to the exclusion of everything else,” he said.

There's more to come

Brands have dabbled in gaming and in AR but Pokémon Go builds on pop culture legacy that dates back to the mid-1990s. It taps into the nostalgia of millennials who are heavily reliant on their mobiles – an area Nintendo and Pokémon have not had a presence in until now.

Betts suspected elements of Pokémon will start popping up in other games, but remains sceptical on how long the game will stick around for.

“Mobile gaming has longevity, but there's a lot to be said for the newness of specific games. Words with friends was all anyone could talk about for a while but is anyone still playing it?” he questioned.

There is no denying the initial interest in Pokémon Go has to wane. But Niantic Lab CEO John Hanke has said there is more to come in the pipeline with deeper gameplay mechanics being introduced to encourage players to stick around and bi-weekly updates being rolled out.

The game, which is currently live in 26 countries, is aiming to expand into 200 countries soon. Once its enter Asia, which has a cult-like obsession with Pokémon, the download numbers are expected to exceed any other market.

With Google rumoured to be working on a new version of Google Glass, Pokémon Go could one day be able to leave your phone and go straight to your eyeballs.

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