It wasn’t long ago that “gaming” meant sitting for hours with a remote control in hand, eyes glued to a monitor in a strangely aloof, catatonic state. But for the first time in a long time, and without their mothers prompting, gamers have been inspired to get off the couch and actually go outside. Summer 2016 has seen the rebirth of the popular ’90s Pokémon franchise. As young people hit the streets and explore the world again, thanks to Pokémon Go, we started to wonder: Is this convening?
As young people hit the streets and explore the world again, thanks to Pokémon Go, we started to wonder: Is this convening?
As most of us know by now, the game draws on Google Maps and location services to help users catch Pokémon “in the real world” (well, on their mobile phone screens). It’s sparked some controversy, and seems to be equally loved and hated. Among the most opinionated of the game’s new fanboys and fangirls, we’ve seen endless posts and think-pieces suggesting the game has changed how people view the Pokémon universe—or more ambitiously, they say it’s changing how we actually experience the world. Regardless of whether the hype of this particular game lives on, Pokémon Go has made a lot of people more aware of the ways that new technologies might “augment” reality.
Forcing users to literally “go” out in to the world, Pokémon Go has won praise for its active approach to gaming. Setting up hotspots called “Gyms” and “Pokéstops” around cities, the game tailors itself to where people hang out the most. There’s even a “gym” located next door to our Shook Kelley, Los Angeles office, at Bogie’s Liquor store (yes, there’s a liquor store next door; no, we don’t go there (that) often). So on the surface at least, it looks like people are getting out and interacting with one another in the world, as a result of the game.
But what’s the nature of these interactions? Is it a genuine connection, or a passing acknowledgment? And does it matter? Maybe more importantly, can this potential for connection somehow be harnessed?
A lot of companies are asking questions like: What exactly does this do for potential customers?
Software developers have been quick to notice the Pokémon craze, and they’re trying to build off the game’s success, too. In just a couple of weeks after the game was made available, Razer developed RazerGo, a messenger app that allows Pokémon Go users to connect with nearby players. Project Fixup, an online dating company, released Pokédates, a dating app where Pokémon Go users get fixed-up for a pricey $20 per match. But doesn’t this just get us farther down the networked technology wormhole? What about reality-based experiences, like brick-and-mortar retailers?
Because the game creates an augmented reality experience that constantly refreshes onscreen, it is contingent on the time and place of a player’s location. If retailers or other place-based businesses could anticipate the movement of people, how might they capitalize? A lot of companies are asking questions like: What exactly does this do for potential customers? Are stores and retail sites able to offer a different experience every time shoppers come through the door? Are those unique experiences exclusive to customers? Is this going to annoy my regular customers?
Specialty grocer Jungle Jim’s, outside Cincinnati, Ohio, took note of the app’s popularity and encouraged shoppers to “catch ‘em all” inside the store. What are the potential benefits? Maybe Jungle Jim’s can drive traffic, assuming an invitation is enough (what’s unique about playing there?). And what are the potential risks? It could be a waste of marketing time and voice power, on a game that’s probably just a fad. Worse yet, if the invitation really worked and a thousand teenagers showed up at the store, we could imagine creating an awful shopping experience for people who are actually at the store to buy food. Still, imagine a best case scenario: a deeper level of interaction and engagement between existing shoppers, new shoppers and staff, making Jungle Jim’s a genuinely stronger destination for convening.
If you can think up at least one very good reason for why your brand’s story dovetails with Pokémon Go, then by all means, give it a try.
If we could humbly offer one recommendation that we think makes sense: Only invite Pokémon Go users if it makes sense for your place-based destination and brand. Jungle Jim’s is a very fun store, they tell a lot of jokes and even used to have a roller coaster on premise. So there’s probably some resonance. But grocery stores like Safeway or Kroger? Not so much. A less-than-serious airline brand like Southwest, okay. But more serious airlines like American Airlines, probably not. The DMV would not be a good place to invite Pokémon Go. But public parks could pull it off. If you can think up at least one very good reason for why your brand’s story dovetails with Pokémon Go, then by all means, give it a try. And yes, this means you have to have a clue what the Pokémon universe is all about, and that’s before looking it up on Wikipedia.
Whether retail stores or other public places choose to embrace the game is yet to be seen, but we do know this: technology is getting better at bringing people together in ways we have never seen or anticipated. But can technology on its own actually create communities, or is it simply bringing random people together, mostly by chance?