Pokémon Go: simply a game, or a simple game?

Pokémon Go’s success is in large part due to connecting with the generation that played the card game when they were kids. At the same time, the media has picked up on the story during the traditionally slow summer season. Pokémon Go uses augmented reality, which is a technology that everybody knows about already, and has been used for some time now anyway. Its moment will only come when it can be used on more sophisticated devices than a smartphone.

There isn’t really much to say about Pokémon Go. In terms of intrinsic playability, it basically consists of walking around looking at the world through your smartphone until you see a Pokémon, and then you try to catch it. You create an avatar that moves around by following your phone’s GPS coordinates, allowing you to see where you are like you would on a Google Map. The map’s indicators are replaced with Pokéstops, offering you free stuff every five minutes as you approach them. You can get things to help your Pokémon after a fight, Pokémon eggs that hatch as long as you keep your distance, and Pokéballs to catch new Pokémon. You can find Pokémon everywhere, even in my garden, but they tend to lurk more often in public places. The more species of Pokémon you have, the stronger that species becomes, and when you reach a certain level, you can represent the red, blue or yellow team, which are at war to take over the Pokémon gyms dotted around.

The game is available as a free download with some premium options, and it will include sponsored locations to attract players. I don’t imagine Pokémon Go will enjoy its current level of popularity for long: for one thing, a lot of people living in the northern hemisphere will give up come winter. In short, it’s most likely a fad, comparable to Angry Birds: we will probably stuffed toys, perhaps even a movie, and some serious money being made… but “just money”, no real relevance.

Freemium – a business model, especially on the Internet, whereby basic services are provided free of charge while more advanced features must be paid for. Origen: Early 21st century: blend of free and premium (Oxford Dictionary)

The media is enjoying covering the story, with news of unfortunate people who have downloaded malware, idiots playing it while they drive or cross the street, others who have bumped into things or even trespassing private property (never a good idea, especially in the United States) or who have been robbed while playing it. If you have young children playing, take special care: the game dynamics gets them to go far away from you than expected in desperate search for that next Pokémon to catch ’em all.

Hats off to Niantic for their timing in reviving this cultural phenomenon. But this is clearly a social event, not any type of major technological breakthrough.

Enrique Dans. Professor. IE Business School,