Augmented reality. In many ways, the concept is still a mystery to us. Google Glass promised a form of it, but hasn’t quite gotten off the ground, while our phones sometimes send “push notifications” in response to our real world locations. Still, these small nods to the link between our technology and our environment remain minimal. For a certain segment of game devotees, however, that’s all about to change.
The Pokemon franchise is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, a landmark the company is acknowledging by re-releasing classic games, bringing new ones to market – revealed to be Pokemon Sun and Moon (not the suspected Pokemon Z), and offering game codes for legendary Pokemon. One of the new games expected out this year, however, is very different from the old Pokemon formats – Pokemon Go.
What Is Pokemon Go?
Pokemon Go is the franchise’s new augmented reality game that will allow the player-trainer to catch Pokemon in their real world environments. One hundred Pokemon will be included in the game, with different ones appearing depending on where players are. When one is nearby, your phone will buzz, alerting you so you can attempt to catch it. Unlike traditional gameplay, however, Pokemon Go doesn’t seem to feature battles as part of catching wild Pokemon.
If played with only your phone, Pokemon Go is free to use, but to enhance your real world commitment to gameplay, trainers will also be able to purchase a small wearable device that looks like a Pokeball watch. The watch can take the place of your phone for signaling the presence of a wild Pokemon.
Are We Ready For AR Pokemon?
With few AR games on the market, are we ready to take the Pokemon experience to the streets? Right now, many are uncertain. First, The Pokemon Company and Niantic have been releasing only limited information about the game, which has just begun North American beta testing (Japanese beta testing began a few months ago). Because the game is so different from anything we’ve previously played, the lack of details has many feeling uncertain about the upcoming launch.
Second, AR gaming is a compelling idea, but some fear Pokemon Go is stretching the concept too far. While the lack of battling in the wild Pokemon scenarios is meant to inconvenience players as little as possible – do you really have time to battle that Pokemon on your way to class or work? Other factors make the whole process seem inconvenient. Many Pokemon can only be found in specific locations, either globally or based on general geographic factors, like the presence of a body of water. Finding water Pokemon may not be too hard for those living in California or on Lake Michigan, but players in landlocked Oklahoma may have a difficult time catching them.
Then again, it may be premature to judge Pokemon Go’s embrace of AR or AR gaming more generally. As Brad Nierenberg, President and CEO of RedPeg Marketing and noted innovative thinker has shown, we’ve come a long way from Pong and arrived at more extensive and time consuming games like League of Legends. Thirty years ago, such a transition would have been unthinkable. We may be at such a technological cusp.
For Long Term Fans
Ultimately, much of what The Pokemon Company is harnessing with its 20th anniversary celebration stems from a lifelong attachment to the brand and the games. For young adults who have been playing the game since the mid to late nineties, Pokemon Go will likely prove irresistible – even if we don’t like it.
Having grown up wondering what it would be like to really catch Pokemon the way our cartoon heroes did, long term fans of the franchise will finally get the chance. We’ll be able to battle at local gyms, trade Pokemon in person, or spot a rare find at a special event. We’ll even be able to work up to be the leader of our own gym.
Pokemon Go is likely only one of the first of many AR games that will hit the market in years to come, so we shouldn’t be too quick to predict the format’s success based on this one game.
For now, we’ll just have to wait and see – and hope beta testers leak us a few more details.