Why Pokémon GO is an evil and genius idea
If you don’t live in a cave, you must be aware that the Pokémon GO app is a new mass-scale phenomenon for 20-something people. In this short article, I share my thoughts — as a 30-something person — of why I think it’s evil, and why it’s a perfect app idea at the same time.
What the F**k is Pokémon?
I knew Pokémon as a video game for the Game Boy portable console. The goal was to capture “Pokémons” (fictive colourful animals with specific characteristics inspired by role-playing games) and to make them fight. It was also a TV animated series, and a cards game. My little brother was really into this when I was a late teenager. So, I’m not part of the Pokémon generation, but I followed its saga closely.
When the Pokémon GO app was released, I was intrigued, fascinated and skeptical at the same time. The game allows you to catch Pokémons from the real world, based on your location, and using fancy augmented reality. Some of my younger friends were obsessed about it, playing and talking about it all the time. My little brother was late for dinner, because he found Pokémons around my home! I was wondering: what make all these people so crazy about that game?!
Motivation and game mechanics
When I asked my friends why they were so obsessed by this game, they told me that it was awesome to actually do what they watched a fictional character do in the TV series that they loved. They told me that it was fun and addictive. They even told me that, thanks to the game, they went out of the house and discovered cool new places.
Then I watched how it worked over my brother’s shoulder. It was really well made, indeed!
It’s fascinating to see the character walking on the map of your actual location, but surrounded by fictional things. Augmented reality is like making the surrounding world more exciting by adding little gems — or Pokémons — here and there. Walking becomes a game, in a virtual world that is a layer on top of the real world.
Finding Pokémons is not hard — they show up on the map — but catching them is a bit more challenging. You have to throw a “Pokéball” with your finger, similarly to Angry Birds, towards the Pokémon, hope that it traps it, and then hope that the Pokémon does not find a way to escape.
Why is this game “evil”?
I call this game “evil” because of its addictiveness, and because more people are walking around like zombies (sorry, but that’s the way I see it) in the street. They arrive late at meetings. They pretend that the game is a good excuse to go out and walk (which is good, indeed), but in reality I feel a disconnection between these people and me.
I feel disconnected with these people because I don’t play Pokémon (so we have one less subject in common), because I don’t like to have to sidestep “zombies” when I walk in the street, and also because I’m mad when my friends are late. Also, I feel bitter about society when I see photos like the one on the top of this article, and videos like the one below:
I think that many people who play Pokémon GO have become addicts, thanks to an a well-crafted (“evil”) plan, which is genius at the same time.
Why is this game genius?
Business-wise, Pokémon GO is pure genius.
First, the app was made by Niantic, a software company that is known for developing mobile augmented reality games. And this company is lead by John Hanke, one of the founders of Keyhole, bought by Google to develop Google Earth. So they know their s**t about geography, maps and augmented reality!
Second, the Pokémon license (owned by Nintendo) is gold, because a whole generation of kids and teenagers spent years watching their TV series and playing their games with passion. Pokémon GO’s game mechanics allow them to do in reality what the main character was doing in the TV series and video game.
So, Pokémon GO is a powerful blend of nostalgia, technology, and personal empowerment (you can act as the hero). Not to mention the social aspect brought by the possibility to compete with other players, by making your Pokémon fight!
It’s pure genius!
And it’s even more genius as a business, because Pokémons attract players to places. So, now that they have the players’ attention, Niantic will now be able to charge businesses for putting a Pokémon near them, in order to bring eyeballs there!
Yeah, attention is key, and Pokémon GO has it all, these days!
Now that I’m done sharing my point of view, explanations, rant and positive impressions about Pokémon GO, let’s take a step back.
This game make me realise something important: I’ve always loved the idea of Augmented Reality, and it used to be a popular trend in mobile apps (around year 2009, if I remember well) but never really became mainstream. It was impressive and fun to use, but not practical, and not useful, per se. This technology was not an end in itself, it needed something more: a story that people relate to. And that’s exactly what Niantic found in the Pokémon license, thanks to massive popularity and nostalgia.
If I apply this learning to myself, I realise that I love building technology, but I lack knowledge about news and pop culture — because I don’t care, and prefer to spend my time building stuff. So I’ll never be able to create a massively successful app like Pokémon alone, I need to join forces with a person that is able to find a powerful message for the crowd, which will give meaning to the software I create.
But, as I replied to Tariq Krim’s essay “Drifting”, I would not have developed a game like Pokémon GO, because I think that the consequences of that game are not good for earth, nor humanity. My quest is to find an idea that will benefit to millions of people, but with a clearly positive global outcome: like improving education, justice, happiness and/or the sustainability of our environment. Stealing people’s attention is not good, and fun is not a reason.