Pokémon Go has been a surprise, slam-dunk, app-sensation for Nintendo, estimated to have overtaken Twitter’s 65 million active user base in just 7 days. It comes as a huge boost adding $9 billion to the market value of a company that in recent years has slipped into niche obscurity within its traditional market. In fact, its most recent platform the Wii U, launched in 2012, delivered the least unit sales of any Nintendo console in the company’s history.
What is Pokémon Go?
Pokémon Go is a free gaming app that combines a number of mobile technologies. Once the app is downloaded onto a smartphone, it integrates with Google Maps, appropriating the real world as the gaming environment. Users must then physically travel to points on the map where Pokémon are set to spawn, with their location verified via GPS. Once in range, the phone’s camera is used to provide an augmented reality projection of a Pokémon, which you must then capture, enabling for it to be used in battles against other user’s Pokémon.
Go play outside
Rather than games and mobile devices acting to promote sedentary behaviour, Pokémon Go has the reverse effect.
When developing Pokémon Go, the Nintendo/Google collaboration Niantic Labs intentionally designed the app to promote physical activity. The key physical benefit is that users are required to go outside and walk several kilometers in order to both catch Pokémon, as well as using activity tracking inputs to incubate and hatch eggs. This is perhaps the most revolutionary move in gaming since Nintendo’s Wii (codenamed project revolution), introduced motion control. Both Jawbone and Cardiogram for Apple Watch have recorded that activity from average Pokémon Go users almost doubled.
One issue that arises through such extensive use of mobile technology is the drain on the battery. To overcome this Nintendo is also launching the Pokémon Go Plus – a wearable device that is essentially an activity tracker, allowing for users to shut down the app on their phone whilst still recording motion in order to hatch eggs.
Go meet people
An unexpected benefit of the app is amongst users suffering autism or social anxiety. By forcing players outside of their isolated comfort zone, the game provides enough distraction from their fears and inner monologue to enable people to break free and interact with other humans. What’s more, these interactions are far more friendly than the troll infested game lobbies of XBox shooters. The majority of Pokémon Go players are actually in their 20s and what we are seeing is a “rise of the nerds”, commonly experienced at college, where activities disregarded as weird and geeky by teens are later enjoyed and celebrated as young adults. This is true social gaming the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the arcades of the 80s.
Go carefully now
Whilst Pokémon Go has its benefits there have been cases of users being injured due to misadventure. The act of walking around a real work environment full of traffic, trip hazards and unscrupulous people, whilst staring at a phone may, of course, result in some users coming a cropper. Some criticism has also been leveled at the developers for locating some spawn point in places that may be unsafe for some users (i.e children going to remote locations). There are also the sedentary diehards for whom the prospect of catching a rare and distant Pokémon doesn’t involve a nice walk, but rather another drive in the car.
But overall Nintendo has once again opened a new world of possibilities which could spell further health benefits for users and we can’t wait for some mushroom-fuelled Mario Parkour.