The Pokemon GO game was an interesting phenomenon last summer. More than that, the worldwide event offered a glimpse into the role interactive media can play in the lives of mobile users.
Developed by Niantic, this augmented reality game allowed users to download Pokemon from the “real world,” using a cell phone app that used a camera and GPS tracking to combine the real world with the world of Pokemon.
During the height of Pokemon GO’s popularity, Nintendo’s stock soared. The app was downloaded by millions, it seized media attention and sent droves of cellphone-wielding kids and teens into the great outdoors to hunt down Zubats, Magicarp, and Pidgeys.
Then, as soon as it came, it went. Pokemon GO users quickly tired of the app, deleted it from their phones and moved on. Pokemon GO’s popularity was a true sensation. It was an admittedly short-lived one, but it did show that people are ready for mixed reality games–video games that combine the real world with the world of the game.
In Pokemon GO, players could visit Poke stops for Pokemon and supplies, or visit gyms, where they could pit their captured Pokemon against other teams’ Pokemon. These stops and gyms could be anything, from landmarks to street signs to churches. Some businesses, such as McDonald’s, paid to have Poke stops or gyms located in their establishments; others, that found Poke stops or gyms on their property by coincidence, capitalized on it, sometimes even offering free Wifi or other amenities to Pokemon GO users in hopes of winning their business.
These gyms and Poke stops demonstrate one of the greatest challenges of mixed reality games. Nintendo needed global GPS data, including coordinates of where all the stops would be. That’s a lot of information to collect, even if you have the technology to share it in a compact, efficient way. To pull it off, Pokemon GO used data from Ingress, another mixed reality game. An effective solution–but one that is not available to would-be indie game creators who want to dabble in mixed reality. If such games are truly to thrive in the future, the game design process should be made accessible to start-ups and ambitious individuals who lack the finances and clout of a company such as Nintendo.
There are other, less technical issues with augmented reality as well. Some Poke stops and gyms were located on private property, leading to a rash of trespassing. Additionally, some privacy concerns have come up. Even if Pokemon GO is not particularly relevant anymore, these concerns will likely be a conversation in any augmented reality game we might see, and demonstrate how complicated it can be to mix gaming and the real world.