It feels a little like Pokémon GO has single-handedly put augmented reality on the map. The game was officially released July 6 after less than a year of pre-press and teasers from Niantic Labs, and it has since taken the app-wielding world by storm. Within 13 hours of its release, it became the top-grossing app in the U.S; within a month, it took the title as most popular game in U.S. history (beating out the Candy Crush Saga, Draw Something and Clash Royale). The game attracts an average of 21 million players a day and, though it’s free to play, has generated roughly 1.6 million dollars a day in in-app purchases.
What is Pokémon GO, in a nutshell? Like geocaching or Go’s sister-app, Ingress, Pokémon GO is a GPS-based game that uses handheld technology and augmented reality to mobilize players in the physical world. The camera on a user’s phone works with Pokémon GO to reveal small creatures called Pokémon in the world all around them. The object of the game? To locate, capture, battle, and train virtual creatures called Pokémon, who appear on the screen as if they were in the same real-world location as the player.
It’s not hard to see that the game has changed the way the world thinks about interacting with its own backyard. Players have reported walking an average of three miles a day, and applications of this augmented reality game are bound to open new doors for marketing as time goes on. Brick and mortar businesses don’t have the ability to lobby game makers for a spot on the virtual map — yet. Eventually, though, the company does plan to offer the option to designate a specific set of coordinates as a PokeStop or a PokeGym. For now, many local businesses are still seeing a significant boost in foot traffic by using features of the game to their advantage.
One enterprising realtor in Gig Harbor, representing McNally Management, found a way to connect with players when he realized that one of his listings was home to a few rare Pokémon. Capitalizing on the craze, he did not discount these selling points on the home’s Zillow property listing. A recently remodeled three bedroom, two bath home, this house for sale in Tacoma boasts three Pokémon GO gyms and five PokeStops nearby. There’s also been a confirmed Squirrtle sighting in the backyard, and there may even be a Level Seven Charzard in the neighbor’s shed, the listing explains.
Restaurants, bars and coffee shops especially have had the chance to capitalize on the trend. The Copper Door in Tacoma, for example, welcomes trainers every Thursday by dropping lures to attract passing Pokémon. Owner Craig Moore and most of his staff are happy to play right alongside patrons.
“We know you are playing,” Copper Door shared on their Facebook page. “We are too. We will be dropping lures at 7:00 p.m., 8:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. Lots of Pokémon to catch and drink some great craft beer.” The day before, a screenshot of a Dratini in the brew house was cleverly captioned with hashtags like ?#?Pokémongo and ?#?yesweplay. Appealing once again to the players, Copper Door also orchestrated a cider pairing that offered a nod to the Pokémon franchise at large, writing, “This week features a Pokémon berry-themed cider flight.”
Moore says that the players have been wonderful to have, and he plans to continue to welcome fellow fans with more lures and a Poke-friendly atmosphere. He’s noticed, however, that the number of players has dropped off significantly since the craze burst onto the scene. As the AR game evolves and Niantic refines the art of driving players to locations, Moore says he would be interested to see what could come of a partnership with Niantic Labs.
Public places have also seen more visitors as players get out and about in search of Pokémon and all the swag that goes along with the game.
Metro Parks Tacoma has seen a steady stream of visitors over the summer of 2016 thanks to Pokémon GO. Michael Thompson, public information officer, reports that Wright, Wapato and Point Defiance Parks have all seen plenty of visitors coming and going (and coming back again) in search of the coveted Pokémon that reside there.
Point Defiance Park played host to roughly 700 players in July in what organizers dubbed a Poke Hike, meeting up at Geek Girl Collectibles before traveling loosely but collectively through the park in search of Pokémon, Stops and Gyms. Park officials are delighted to see people and families of all ages enjoying their public parks, and Thompson acknowledges that augmented reality is a fun way to do that. “The app has brought more people into the parks, and that’s good. We encourage people to stay safe and respect other people who may be using the parks when they visit public parks. Be mindful of your surroundings, pay attention to traffic — in other words, just use good judgment.”
Thompson touches on an important point: it’s not all fun and games when it comes to Pokémon GO. The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department joins Metro Parks Tacoma in urging players to practice common sense when it comes to catching them all. Users have, in some rare cases, been so caught up in augmented reality that they’re not paying enough attention to actual reality. The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department has reported a rise in suspicious person dispatches and complaints of trespassing since Pokémon GO was released. Drivers also report that players aren’t always observing traffic laws when they’re on the hunt. And a handful of businesses surveyed reported that they wouldn’t mind seeing players pick up after themselves a little better, either.
Only time will tell how enterprising non-profits, businesses and community groups will use Pokémon GO to their advantage. A handful of businesses across the country have reported increasing their business by anywhere from 25% to 75% in the mere 30 days since Pokémon GO was released. No such big breakthroughs have been recorded in the South Sound just yet thanks to this outrageously popular app, but business owners agree there’s definitely a lot of potential to drive customers to local businesses using this kind of technology. Regardless of the sort of longevity this craze may or may not prove to have, the implications for creative South Sound residents are exciting as entrepreneurs consider ways to connect players to local business out of thin air.