Pokémon Go has become the go-to success story for everyone in the Augmented Reality space — and given it’s initial numbers, it’s no wonder.
But why does this game appeal to hundreds of millions of people? Is it just the Pokémon license? Is it because of Augmented Reality? Is it their innovative use of geolocated content?
While all of those played a role in its success, I believe the most important reason is the following:
Its storytelling potential.
Pokémon Go’s biggest asset isn’t any individual feature — it’s how it all comes together to allow users to live through one of the most popular stories ever told: the story of a Pokemon Trainer.
Pokémon masterfully hijacks your imagination by giving you just enough features for your brain to immerse itself into a fictional world — making it the most successful AR storytelling platform in the market today.
Immersive Narratives are distinct from any other form of narrative. Passive ones, like movies, allow us to watch a story unfold from a distance. Interactive narratives, like seen in video-games, allows us to participate in a story by controlling a character… also from a distance.
Immersive narratives remove that distance completely, encompass your reality and allow you to be the lead of the story. The boundary between your physical actions and the digital experience blur, and the end result is not something you watch or something you play, but something you live through.
Pokémon Go is an amazing example of an immersive narrative done right. It gives its users the tools for them to tell their own story, and their brain fills up the gaps, transforming the reality around them into a Pokémon Fantasy.
This raises an important point: a large chunk of the experience in Pokemon Go doesn’t happen within the confines off the app, but in your head. Once the phone app convinces you that Pokémon could be lurking in any corner of the world, you start to look at all of your surroundings differently, playing into its fictional reality even when a phone is not in hand.
Pokémon achieves this by not cutting any corners: much like a Pokemon Trainer, you must walk and explore the world to progress — sometimes even travelling across countries to find rare creatures in their natural habitat. And because the story happens in the real world, you’re bound to find other players in your journey: real people that serve as “characters” that can have a real impact in your own story.
All of this adds to the immersion and makes the world of Pokemon Go feel real, adding meaning to the personal journey of each user.
So if Pokemon Go is so successful in its storytelling, why did its userbase drop over 80% over the past year?
Because storytelling was never the driving force of the design of the application.
Niantic didn’t focus their subsequent updates in increasing the storytelling potential of the platform as much as they could. So as the months went by, the stories eventually started to get repetitive and old, and people lacked the emotional attachment to go back into the experience.
When the user narrative becomes stale and predictable, so does the product.
We’re shifting from an attention economy to an experience economy, and Pokémon Go is living proof of it. We want our products to be emotionally engaging, and we want them to get us involved in meaningful narratives that we own. Anything else will begin to feel bland in comparison.
When we’re kids, we’re able to transform our surroundings with just our imagination and tell fantastic stories with the cheapest tools. Pokémon Go appeals to the inner child in all of us by giving us a way to regain a bit of that power.
And as soon as people realize that the Pokemon Go’s success comes largely from its ability to involve users in meaningful personal narratives, not just its mechanics or license, the tech world will change in a flash.