On July 6, 2016, social media erupted when pocket monsters took over the US cyberspace. Pokémon Go, for those living under a nicely sized boulder, is an augmented-reality mobile game created by Niantic Inc., a modest tech company spurned out of Google. Niantic was asked by Nintendo to manufacture this widely anticipated app using location-based technology from Niantic’s last game, Ingress.
The official release trailer for Pokémon Go.
The original idea of Pokémon Go was conceived in 2014, and the video game world has been abuzz with rumors ever since. The goal of all Pokémon games is to catch as many Pokémon, or animated pocket monsters, as you can and compete with other players. The Pokémon franchise has been a cultural phenomenon since its start in 1996 through TV shows, video games, and trading card games. With this new app, players are encouraged to “get up and go” in the real world. Certain real-life locations have been designated as Pokéspots or Gyms, where users can battle, collect items, or interact with other trainers.
But what makes this game different from any other app? Why is this app making headlines, rumbling the stock market, and flooding social media? Quite simply, it is because so many people are using it. Pokémon Go has approximately 20 million daily active users, surpassing the 2013 craze of Candy Crush Saga. The free-to-play game easily topped the iTunes Store charts in both the US and Germany. This makes Pokémon Go “the biggest mobile game in US history”; not only is it wildly popular, but through various in-app purchases, app revenue peaks over $2 million a day.
Intersection of Fitness and Technology
One of the main aspects of the game is the blending of the virtual and real worlds. Elias Aboujaoude, psychiatrist and author from Stanford University, claimed that “Pokémon Go is the biggest step the culture has taken so far toward virtual reality.” Whether that is true or not, the game has certainly done an impressive job of using AR (augmented reality) and GPS-based software in creating its realm.
"I've met a lot of people I wouldn't have met and I've made a lot of new friends from the game," 15-year-old Anna Moller said, as she passed through the Port Orange, FL city center.
Source: The Daytona Beach News Journal
In order to move your avatar in-game, you must move in real life. This function is based off location, so unlike a pedometer, you cannot just move in place and rack up steps. This encourages users to go outside and play. People have both praised and blamed the app for its push towards physical fitness. Although video games have been geared to inspire healthy living before, not many have been so effective in sending people outdoors on a regular basis. Some users have gone as far as to say that the game has encouraged better mental health. Plenty attest that they enjoy making friends with other players and traveling their local area.
The Dangers of Pokémania
Whether you are a fan or a critic of the new app, it is impossible to ignore the various rumors flying around about the hazardous nature of the game. There have been dramatic anecdotes about people robbing, attacking, or harming others at various Pokéstops and Gyms. In reality, these stories are hoaxes, as debunked by Snopes, and the game is not a deleted scene from The Purge.
Even without the romanticized headlines, multiple safety concerns have been expressed about the game. Freeway signs and social media campaigns have been urging people “Don’t Pokémon Go and Drive”. Users on foot have entered a new state of distracted walking. There have been people walking into poles, stopping in strange spots, and stepping out into the road—cities like New York and San Francisco have seen hordes of Pokémon Go players move en masse in order to congregate at Pokéstops and Gyms. Already, the app has a “Stay aware of your surroundings” caution, but not everyone has taken the advice to heart.
Terri Egan, deputy commissioner of the New York State DMV, recently released a statement: “This new, all-consuming Pokémon Go craze has caught the entire country by surprise...we are concerned about the consequences playing this game can have on public safety.” Source: Poughkeepsie Journal
For those of you preparing for another Pokémon hunt, remember that distracted driving or walking can lead to injury or worse. When visiting Pokémon hotspots, use discretion. Niantic does not individually qualify each location featured in the app; many are simply recommended by civilian users, so locations can be shady or discrete. Also, children should never be left unescorted--disturbing warnings of malicious figures waiting at Pokéstops have placed parents on high alert.
Following the original release, there were numerous complaints that Niantic Inc. was collecting far too much from the Google sign-in information (players using the Nintendo Trainer Club were not affected).
The original release of the app had requested “Full account access” from Google.
Source: Nathan Olivarez-Giles, The Wall Street Journal
Unintentionally, the company had asked for “Full account access” when users logged in through Google; this supposedly included access to services such as Google Drive, Gmail, and more. It did not allow Niantic or Pokémon Go to change passwords or make Google Wallet payments, but many were understandably concerned. Thankfully, Niantic quickly resolved the privacy issue by revising its policies and Google permissions. The July 12 update came with a new request for “basic Google profile information”; users who downloaded the update should logout and log back in for the privacy update to take effect.
A Commercial Success
If you’re not up for hunting Charmanders, maybe you would prefer to speak business: according to Reuters, Pokémon Go has added $7.5 billion to Nintendo’s net worth in just two days. The company’s shares have grown 10%, reaching its peak of the past two months. It is rumored that Niantic, the app developer, could be making even more off of this app than the Japanese company.
Although the app itself is free-to-play, dedicated players will often make micro-transactions for various items or power-ups to aid their quest. There are also various accessories to facilitate the app’s function in daily life. Already, the “Pokémon Go Plus” wristband pre-orders have sold out in many places. The wristband, paired with your phone through Bluetooth, will allow you to interact with Pokéstops or Gyms without pulling out your phone. It is currently priced at $35, but others have placed eBay offers for over $100 for the gadget.
Additionally, business owners have embraced the game for the immense foot traffic it has created. Stores have advertised themselves as Pokéspots in an effort to attract wandering users. Not only has the app proven to be a cultural rage, but its lucrative capabilities have impressed many.
L’Inizio Pizza, a NYC pizzeria, is one business of many to benefit from Pokémon Go crowds. “The amount of people has been astonishing,” the owner commented. Source: NY Post
Around the World
As of July 13, 2016, the game has officially released in the United States, Germany, New Zealand, and Australia, although many in other countries have found loopholes and downloaded the app regardless. Citizens from the UK have complained about security issues and asked their release date to be pushed back until said issues are resolved, much to the dismay of British Pokémon fans. Places such as the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. and the Auschwitz Memorial in Poland have asked players to be respectful and to not hunt virtual creatures on the solemn grounds.
Countries including Japan, Singapore, and China have faced uproar as eager fans demand a release date. Some have taken initiative and released mock Pokémon Go games. There is a danger in this, too: if the app has not been officially released in your country, chances are that a hoax is up for download and users who download it are subject to malware or worse. Niantic has asked restless fans to be patient as they handle server issues—as it stands now, there are still multiple issues handling the mass internet traffic from the US and Australia.
In only a week, Pokémon Go has taken the world by storm, and there will undoubtedly be more to come from the #PokemonGo craze. For now, I applaud the ones making friends, braving headlines, and walking miles on their journey to catch ‘em all.
Ling is an editor for The Millennial Times.