Business Unusual

Pokemon Go - read this before you think about playing and benefiting from it.

There are now over 100 million downloads in the growing list of countries that the game is officially available in. It went live officially in South Africa on 4 October.

Not to mention many thousands more running as unofficial downloads.

One SA Pokemon Facebook Group has over 10 000 members and there are dozens of WhatsApp groups for co-ordinating players around the country.

A meet-up in Sea Point had hundreds attending and others have been hosted in around the country.

It is now official, but it has been available unofficially since July using an unofficial version, there was a risk of installing a harmful clone of the game, however there appear to have been no reports of malicious version installed in SA.

It has, reportedly, led to a major corporate to not only advise staff against installing it on devices they may use on the company networks, but also banned staff from playing during office hours.

Not since the early days of Facebook did staff distracted from work warrant blocking a service.

The slow release is to manage the volume of data that their servers need to handle.

Pokemon GO is more popular than Instagram, Twitter and even Facebook at the moment in the US based on how many (and how long) people are playing. It is one of the reasons it is not available everywhere - the servers have not always been able to accommodate all the load. The story of its success though can be traced back over a 140 years ago to cigarette cards. Made to stiffen the packs; the collectible cards with a variety of different images from birds to sportsmen encouraged smokers to collect all of them.

No surprise that the Pokemon slogan is “you gotta catch them all!”

The ideas that led to cigarette collecting cards are based on nudges that move all of us. The game industry has grown up to exploit each one. When the same nudges are used in other applications we now call it gamification.

Consider how many of the following would apply to you:

  • People like collecting things and the closer they get to finishing a set the more they desire it.
  • We like a challenge but only ones that we believe we could achieve.
  • We are competitive and enjoy testing our skills when we feel we could succeed.
  • Periodic events give us a sense of anticipation and allow us to sustain interest.
  • Achievements, especially those that can be shown or shared socially, move us to take part.
  • Our desire for things that appear limited is increased and we will work harder to get them.
  • Activities that increase our status in a group will move us to work hard to achieve it.
  • A random reward is a powerful motivator as you never know when your luck might strike.
  • We are engaged with - and more likely to remember - things that affect many of our senses.

You will see these triggers used everywhere and right now that includes visiting your local Pick n Pay for animal cards, or Checkers for mini products.

But there is another remarkable step that was needed to create this runaway success - crowdsourced public places. The best example of the collaborative power of crowdsourcing is Wikipedia, an encyclopedia with new entries added every day, the vast majority written by volunteers and managed by them too.

The creators of Pokemon Go, Niantic started within Google (now Alphabet) to enhance the Google mapping products and included a product called Field Trip which combines maps and wiki entries to locations, but they needed to have the physical locations plotted on the map.

Their first major game - called Ingress - launched in 2012 and allowed players to suggest public spaces and landmarks as game play points which in turn allowed them to accurate locate landmarks around the world to use for Field Trip.

When the idea of a real world Pokemon game was suggested it was as an April’s Fools joke for Google in 2014. Less than one month after its launch and it has earned over $75 million from in-game purchases.

Retailers can test the potential for attracting business ahead of the launch in SA by downloading a version of the game and buying lures that attract Pokemon to the location they have been dropped. That in turn attracts players looking to catch them and possibly buy whatever you may be selling.

At a recent event in Cape Town, the Radisson hotel offered free coffee for those taking part. I only know because the YouTube video about the event mentioned it and that may move some to go back or certainly have a better opinion of the hotel.

Verizon in the US has offered free data while playing for those who download the Verizon app. McDonald’s has a sponsor deal with the game in Japan.

And it is only a question of time before brands will look to place ads in the game based on where you are or how far you have walked or create special characters that only appear at amusement parks or sports stadia.

The promise of events where players come together to battle and catch super powerful pokemon will grab headlines too and attract brands looking to promote their own events.

Even charities could get in on the action with animal shelters already inviting players to take a dog for a walk while hatching eggs.

That is not to say that with the number of people playing there will not be a shortage of negative stories to match the very many stories about the game (it is all part of the Hype Cycle). The game makers believe they have only developed a small part of the game with many improvements and features promised for the future.

The impact on other game makers would be to try copy the success, which will lead to a big increase in Augmented Reality (AR) and lots of clones and fakes. The last runaway success was Candy Crush and while it is still popular it has lost many of the original players. This is likely for Pokemon too.

The official versions will be available here for Android and iOS.

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