Why We Can’t Avoid Pokemon GO

“I’ll be right back,” he said running out the door, “there’s a really good one just down the road.”  For the few of us that haven’t downloaded Pokémon GO yet, this is becoming an all too familiar scenario and it’s only been out for a week. 

Pavements, restaurants and even revered memorials are overcrowding with people glued to their phones, trying to catch a rare Pokémon or travel far enough to hatch an egg. Since Pokémon GO launched last week, millions of people have been sucked into the race to catch ’em all.

Players, or trainers as they appear in the game, have become completely absorbed in their virtual world, bumping into people and lampposts as they count up the metres needed to reach the next level.

Pokémon goes bang

The app, in which users have to move around their local area to find different Pokémon, has exploded in popularity. It’s only been out for a week but around 70 million people already have the app on their phone as it skyrocketed to the top of iTunes and Android App download charts.

Pokémon GO is universal with people of all ages getting involved, from newsreaders to tourists finding a different perspective on New York’s Central Park.

On social media, discussions about Pokémon GO are everywhere, with over 100 tweets a minute using #Pokémon GO and nearly 100,000 people on Facebook mentioning it in the past 24 hours. People are sharing tips on where to find coveted rare Pokémon, grouping their friends together for advice and sharing memes poking fun at the Pokémon GO craze. 

You’ll probably have seen the Google Trends maps that show the huge interest in Pokémon GO, but I thought it would be interesting to compare the British searches for Theresa May to Pokémon GO.

Despite the cabinet reshuffle and Theresa May’s move into 10 Downing Street this week, a monumental, unorthodox change, it seems the British public are much more interested in catching the 151 cartoons of Pokémon GO.

A gaming revolution

While the release of a hotly anticipated game often leads to users shutting themselves in a dark room until they reach the coveted end, this app makes people go outside, travel around their local area and talk to people trying to catch the same figures.

It takes a lot to go viral on a global, the-majority-of-your-office-has-downloaded-it, kind of scale. Pokémon have done it through a mix of nostalgic appeal, an interactive interface and a sense of community.

Take me back…

Anyone who was born in the 80s or 90s will, at some point, have been involved with the Pokémon brand. For me, it was mainly disappointment after buying packs of cards and ending up with a giant collection of Ditto and other low-scoring figures. 

For others it was an obsession, a key part of their childhood was spent keeping Pikachu alive on their Game Boy or watching the series on television. Twenty years on, it’s easy to forget just how much we loved the Pokémon games and this last week has shown that our obsession is as strong as ever.

Chasing Pikachu, Charmeleon, Squirtle, Pidgey and Jigglypuff down the street takes us back to hours spent building up a collection of cards in our bedroom, it reminds us of saving up pocket money to buy the latest Pokémon game.

Nostalgia is powerful, if you can find a way to transport your audience back to a time before they had work worries, mortgages or a holiday to pay off, then you’re going to do well.

People using Pokémon GO nostalgic for the fun of the past can find a new escape, wandering around streets they’ve not seen and cafes they’ve never sat in.

Community feel

This is a game that allows people to explore the local area and compete with gamers across the globe, creating a multi-layered community where millions are doing the same thing together.

People on the train, walking the streets or drinking a coffee while waiting at a Pokéstop are united by the game. Trainers stop to share tips and they’ll confirm that a good character is just round the corner.

In the US, the prospect of Trump as president looms overhead, in the UK Brexit has sent tidal waves across the country and we all lost our heads for a bit. It sounds mad, but Pokémon GO could be the light relief we needed from a world that felt like it was falling apart.

Even if you’re not sold on my rose-tinted view, it’s great that people are stopping in the street and actually talking to each other, even if they are still staring at their screens.

Get up and (Pokémon) Go!

You can’t play this game without getting off your sofa and going outside. Gaming hotspots, known as lures, can be spread across your local area, in places like pubs, libraries, parks and offices, to actively draw other players. To get points, Pokémon characters and vital resources, you need to move around.

It’s about as interactive as it could be, with people going out to find the rarest and highest scoring Pokémon, while the division into three teams has created a healthy dose of rivalry.

As the game relies on your geolocation, there’s no way to cheat it (well, none that has been found yet) so unlike Nintendo Wii where you could ‘run’ from the comfort of your sofa, it’s actually good for you. More dogs are being walked than ever before with gym buffs even suggesting Pokémon GO specific workouts.

Pokémon GO for marketing

While it may not seem like a natural fit, there’s a huge new audience milling around and you can increase the chance of them visiting your business in a few ways.

It is possible to buy ‘Pokécoins’ to create a hotspot where Pokémon collect, which could naturally draw players towards your business. If you run a shop, restaurant or café this could work really well because once people have trekked to your front they might stop and buy a snack.

If your business doesn’t lend itself as well, you could offer charging stations to save any players missing out on Pokémon because their battery has died. Similarly, if you find a rare Pokémon near your business you could advertise this on your social channels.

In a world that is uncertain about its future, Pokémon GO transports us back to the past where the only thing that matters is catching ’em all.

Flickr Creative Commons Image: Pokemon are awesome!!! by Alex Gilbert

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