We get it. Pokemon GO is a thing, and it’s super cool. Everyone is talking about it. For those living under a rock, here’s a basic overview of the game and its mechanics.
Unfortunately, I had a wild couple weeks—I missed the first wave of press of who’s got the coolest PokeStops in town and which restaurants, bars and stores keep Pokemon GO lures popped on their location to draw in customers. I don’t even get to make jokes about the Magikarp evolution being impossible or Rattata spawn rates.
That’s my fault, and I’ll admit it. I knew I’d missed the opportunity to publish concurrent with emerging interest when one of the 50-some-odd year-old retired regulars at the restaurant I work at asked me how to get Pokeballs. I asked him how he even knew about the game just a few days after release. He found out about it in The New York Times.
However, now that the initial wave of Pokemon coverage has passed, we get to talk about cooler, less topical stuff—the implications of Pokemon GO and the tech behind it. I called up some of the folks at the digital agency Smashing Boxes to dish on the future of the game and its potential as a marketing tool. Also, what the platform—a well-skinned geocaching app with some gamification aspects—can mean for the app and gaming industries.
Senior product strategist Hillary Pitts, lead designer Andy Hamilton and developers Dan Morgan and (the wonderfully excitable) Kevin McAbee were all kind enough to take some time to talk Pokemon, fitness, Kim Kardashian and how all these things collide.
These questions served as jumping off points.
- What are some of your thoughts on Pokemon GO? Do you play? What do you think of it as a game and what does it mean to you?
- Since Pokemon GO is essentially a re-skin of Niantic’s previous game Ingress, what other skins/brands do you think could be successfully be applied to the framework?
- How do you see this affecting the app market? How might this inspire the future of mobile gaming and apps?
- If you had a hackathon tomorrow where you had to draw some inspiration from Niantic’s tech and Pokemon GO, where would that take you?
Last up: Andy Hamilton
Most exciting to Andy, as a designer, is the next generation of apps that will come out of Pokemon GO.
Pokemon GO is essentially in what we might call an “open beta” phase right now, so Hamilton is anxious to see the polished version of the product. But even more so, he’s curious what we can do with the next iterations of the technology years down the road.
“It’s like Tinder for AR… My mom has no idea of what AR is, or at least she didn’t last week. This is one of those big incremental steps forward” he says.
While the AR/VR movement right now might seem niche, unpolished or even nerdy and antisocial, he sees Pokemon GO as “totally the antithesis of it [negative perception].” It’s a family friendly introduction into the world of modified or virtual reality, and it’s wildly successful.
Andy had a few different ideas of skins for reusing the platform. Skateboarders could tag locations like stairs, rails or downhill pitches, then if you visit and attempt these challenges, you could be offered some in-game reward. Like with Kevin McAbee’s rock climbing idea, Andy is pushing to find a way to use this location-based platform to get people outside and active—something which Pokemon GO has already done an incredible job of.
As a self-described nerd, Andy is looking forward to the card game Magic: The Gathering taking inspiration from Pokemon GO. Honestly a Pokemon GO-esque app with a darker tone, more stark art style, and a focus on high-level tactical gameplay sounds pretty awesome. Magic, if you steal this idea, be sure to thank Andy. Or pay him.
So while all the folks at Smashing Boxes had different views on what makes Pokemon GO exciting, interesting uses for the framework, or things they might build if they had Niantic’s tech, there were common threads.
Everyone I spoke to had quite a bit of excitement around combining light-RPG (role-playing games) mechanics and geocaching-based gameplay with a marketable skin or theme, and how these come together to gamify exercise.
Not only could this be a profitable venture, but it could benefit the health of millions of kids, not to mention the scores of adults who’ve had a hard time getting outside and exercising. If you’re depressed, anxious, out of shape or just shy, the game is an incredible incentive to get outside and enjoy the world.
Apps like Zombies, Run! have paved the way for the gamification of exercise, but nothing has been as much of a cultural phenomenon as Pokemon GO. Nor has any other game driven people to socialize like this one does.
Pokemon GO, from what I’ve seen and heard, is the next big app. It’s the fish growing legs and crawling onto land. It’s a massive evolution for gaming, apps, fitness and the AR/VR movement, and the future of these industries in the wake of Pokemon GO should be nothing but exciting.
However, one thing Niantic needs to do before all this can be set in stone.
Fix your dang server.