On 6 July 2016, the gaming world changed – and it has wide reaching implications. Pokémon Go, the augmented reality (AR) game that uses mobile phone location data to help players catch digital creatures found in their environs which are then displayed on the phone’s screen, has taken the world by storm.
Users in several markets across the world can be seen walking, running and jumping after the fictional characters, often all at once. But, what impact does this have on the future of AR?
Tapping into 1990’s nostalgia, Pokémon Go was an instant hit. The game’s global popularity certainly seems to have come as a shock to the developers, Niantic, who had to delay the game’s global rollout to ensure its servers could cope with demand. In the first week, the app was downloaded over 10 million times in United States, Australia and New Zealand alone. [As of 19 July, Pokémon Go is available in more than 30 countries.]
Its user base quickly overtook Twitter in daily active users and its average user time beat that of Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and WhatsApp. It is estimated to generate USD1.6 million in revenue a day. Consequently, Nintendo, the game’s manufacturer, saw its share price soar.
Despite predictions, the app does not “eat” a lot of data, but the release was not without some controversy. The characters have been found in “deeply inappropriate” areas, crashes are a constant issue, and the game’s makers have faced questions over user privacy after a report claimed the app requested users’ full Google account access on iOS.
As Andrew Hutchinson, writer at Social Media Today points out, “while you can, of course, revoke Pokémon Go’s access to your data, many people won’t bother. Why? Mostly because in order to block the app’s full access you’ll need to start the game all over again, losing your progress, which will be too much to bear for dedicated Pokémon users.” This propels Pokémon Go into a wider debate on online privacy and data access. Users are willing to give full data access, even when concerns and warnings are highlighted, and as a result, Pokémon Go is able to legally monetize personal data, “because it gives us access to something that we want.”
Issues have also transplanted into the real world, as police issue warnings to gamers to not ‘Pokemon and drive’. Children’s charities have also posted tips on keeping children safe while playing the interactive game.
Industry commentators are quick to predict what Pokémon Go means for the future of gaming and AR.
“How Nintendo commercializes Pokémon Go will probably set the precedent for a new era of mobile app development,” says Scott Bicheno, Editorial Director of Telecoms.com.
According to Sam Roberts, assistant director of the Interactive Media & Games Division at the University of Southern California, Pokémon Go could indicate a new direction for media. “When Pokémon Go finishes maturing, when the creators learn how to serve not just an audience with an abundant amount of free time, but the parents of those players, a community in an old-age home and a group of commuters on a bus, then it will have revolutionized the way we consume media.”
“But Pokémon Go isn’t really a game. It’s a new technology,” writes Ezra Klein, Editor-in-Chief at Vox. “Pokémon Go came out of nowhere to blow away Tinder and rival Twitter for active users in about a week. It did that by leveraging a crude version of a technology that we all know will improve exponentially in the coming years.”
Dedicated built-for-purpose hardware could see augmented reality used to bring archeological sites to life, and deliver new means of telephony, much like the communications predicted in 1980’s science-fiction.
While Google is already working to bring AR to Android phones through their Tango project, Apple is in a strong position to dominate the smartphone augmented reality market, predicts Timothy B. Lee, Vox senior correspondent. “Apple is the only company that makes both a popular smartphone and a mobile operating system (the iPhone and iOS). That means Apple is the only company that can guarantee to app developers that there will soon be millions of phones out there with both hardware and software support for its augmented reality platform.”
Until then, it seems that AR will be refined through gaming.
ITU News / Lucy Spencer