There is nothing like the tempting allure of a cultural phenomena. Whether a major sporting event, celebrity gossip or the latest fad, you can’t help but pay attention. Over the past two weeks, Pokemon Go has swept the country – and many other international locations where it’s being released on a staggered basis. Initially, the references were infrequent but within days, every news outlet was filled with stories and videos of Go gangs chasing rare Pokemons.
I downloaded the app last weekend, but poor timing, as it coincided with a visit to a remote area of Maine. Without PokeStops you can’t access free Pokeballs, so it was impossible to catch Pokemon. I had better luck when I got back to the city and multitasked playing Go while running errands. PokeStops were everywhere, and I caught a few Pokemon while waiting in line to pay at CVS. And it wasn’t just me. Summer brings tourists to town and as I continued on my errands, I passed a visiting family chatting in German. The only word I understood was their continual reference to “Pokemon.”
Apparently, there have been over 15 million downloads so far, with users spending more time playing the game than browsing Facebook or Snapchat. So why Pokemon Go?
1. Augmented reality is the critical hook. This is the first opportunity to readily engage with the technology we’ve been hearing about — and it’s pretty cool.
2. Downloads are free so no cost to participate.
3. Unlike most games, you can play alone or with friends.
4. No real skill is involved so anyone with a smartphone can play.
5. Succeeding is easy. With limited effort or playing time, you quickly advance levels and earn “rights” to join a team and set your Pokemon to spar at the Gym.
6. Nostalgia is powerful. Many remember the Pokemon trading cards or cartoon series.
7. And importantly, you can join the water cooler or social media chatter because you’re an insider.
Whether Pokemon Go will be more than a summer fad is hard to know. My guess is that hard-core gamers will remain loyal, while most samplers will find another distraction come fall. Regardless, these events are a great reminder of the power of mass appeal. Hats off to Nintendo for continually figuring out how to stay relevant. And I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty excited to see what else comes along that uses augmented reality.