A free mobile game is becoming the first high-water mark in augmented reality.
There have been some strange scenes in recent days. Cars parked in odd places. Millennials wandering the roadsides. Pairs of iGens dashing down sidewalks, in pursuit of the wind. While it looks and feels like something out of The Walking Dead, it’s actually something different, the first big splash in augmented reality (AR)—Pokémon Go.
“Gotta Catch ‘Em All”: AR’s New Standard
Developed by Bay Area software company Niantic and released upon the US public on July 6, 2016, Pokémon Go is a location-based augmented reality mobile game that allows players to “catch” Pokémon in the real world around them. The game makes use of a phone’s GPS and camera to enable players to interact with a virtual environment, filled with Pokémon, which has been geospatially overlaid onto the real world. As players go about their daily lives, they use their phones to locate and capture Pokémon. Once captured, Pokémon can be trained and battled.
The figures for Pokémon Go thus far are astounding. Since its release, the game has been installed on more Android phones than the dating app Tinder, its rate of daily active users may soon surpass Twitter, and average daily use time is exceeding that of Instagram, according to Reuters. On top of that, and almost unbelievably, Pokémon Go has added an estimated $7.5 billion to Nintendo’s market value in just its first two days.
But why is the game so popular? Well, for two very simple reasons. First, the game plays on the nostalgia of Millennials and iGens, enabling them to recall the halcyon days of red and blue Gameboy cartridges and holographic playing cards. Second, it appeals to our innate human desire to hunt and collect. Regardless of whether you’ve grown up with Pokémon, you’re intrigued by the treasure hunt that’s going on.
But the Pokémon Go treasure hunt is proving bumpy, even dangerous. Last weekend, two players in California walked off a cliff while playing the game. In another reported case, armed robbers used the game’s features to lure players. The safety of players’ personal information has also been an issue. A bug in the game, which is being fixed, has enabled large-scale access to users’ Google-related accounts. Additional concerns revolve around the actions of players themselves. Because they are interacting with the actual world, not just a virtual one, players bear considerable responsibility during gameplay—much more responsibility, one could argue, than any other type of gamer. When it comes to private property, for example, the game’s creators have left the burden of discretion to players themselves, and discretion is paramount, as the Holocaust Museum’s recent request demonstrates. If players aren’t careful to respect established boundaries, physical or otherwise, legal issues are sure to arise.
It remains to be seen whether Pokémon Go will become anything more than a nostalgic Easter egg hunt. Will players who get sick of walking around find sufficient enjoyment in playing with the virtual pets they’ve amassed? Once players “Catch ‘Em All,” does the game just become Tamagotchi with in-app purchases?
Augmented Reality: Where to Next?
Companies looking to move into augmented and virtual realities (VR) are watching Pokémon Go intently. SAP, which has expressed its belief in the importance of these technologies going forward, is among them.
“I believe very strongly,” said SAP CEO Bill McDermott at SAPPHIRE NOW, “That intelligent applications” — such as AR, VR, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning — “will fundamentally change the way you do work in the enterprise and the way you collaborate with your trading partners.”
SAP made one of its biggest footprints in the AR/VR space in early 2016, at Super Bowl 50, where the company’s Fan Energy Zone treated fans to a host of interactive experiences. One experience called Quarterback Challenge used an Oculus VR headset to enable fans to become an NFL quarterback. Fans were able to simulate “training” drills from completing passes in practice, to leading their team to victory in a game-day scenario. Gaze detection technology allowed fans to select which receiver to throw to, while a hand-held trigger measured timing and accuracy.
SAP is also demonstrating that AR has applications beyond the world of gaming. SAP AR Warehouse Picker, for instance, is a mobile app that leverages smart glasses to simplify warehouse operations. The app provides hands-free functionality that greatly reduces the time workers must spend interacting with handheld scanners and devices.
Pokémon Go is definitely setting the standard for augmented reality gaming, a niche that will only continue to grow. But what will be most interesting to see going forward are the broader applications of AR and VR technologies across industries and the unique ways businesses find to monetize them.