Pokémon GO – A Vicious Marketing Mastermind Or Step One For New Gen Mobile Games?

Alex, PR manager - July 22, 2016
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Pokémon Go - AR development masterpiece?

Only a couple of days after its release, Pokémon GO, a rather controversial Augmented Reality game is surpassing Twitter in daily active users count. The stats speak for themselves:

  • Over 7 million daily active users.
  • About 4% of the population of the
  • Roughly each 25th smartphone user.

This is how many people are crazy about Pokémon GO right now in North America only.

While the hype seems to have no decline before the global release of Pokémon GO, the app is still a rough diamond that needs close oversight from Niantic, the industry and the players.

There are some aspects of this phenomenon that can either transgress into a concerning trend or straightforward present unexpected dangers for the users.

Is Nintendo just a cold and calculative puppeteer that abuses nostalgia?

Users, as customers, can be easily manipulated with all kinds of new and shiny types of applications that utilize augmented reality features. Same can be said about any considerably hyped innovation from hoverboards, to VR and holograms. But is it the case with Niantic’s newest app?

In Pokémon GO, users look for places of interest and are constantly hunting for new creatures. Players train them, and visit Poke Stops to refill their virtual stocks with in-game goods. The places of interest allocated accordingly with popular stores, dining stops, libraries, etc. This means that users are encouraged to visit such places boosting someone’s business.

But is this a new approach that was designed as an evil marketing scheme?

Primarily we have already seen that kind of AR apps. We’ve done it. We loved it. Niantic themselves have released the game called Ingress some time ago. The game was adjusted with Augmented Reality features and people were encouraged to do the very same – walk around the town and capture random stuff for their team.

Players were sticking points of interest on the map. And these places have become Poke Stops and Gyms for Pokémon GO. Of course they are pubs or libraries or malls. That’s where Ingress players used to hang out.

By the way, this approach to functionality makes the local market healthier, Pokémon GO looks like a game-changer. There are already tips and hints from journalists, customers, and developers that focus on “luring” customers to local businesses. All in all – a great beginning.

An augmented reality project of such scale may very well become an even bigger phenomenon that can drastically affect social habits and behavioral patterns of many users. This may result in unexpected issues related to business, marketing, social life, etc. To be fair, the result can equally so be the opposite. The outcome of “mind games” depend solely on Niantic.

If this game keeps growing, the impact of Pokémon GO will be too big to ignore by business owners. The game can affect many aspects of business planning, collocation methods, and marketing tools usage. Simultaneously, creating new trends and building social preferences on your own is a great responsibility that Niantic is putting on its shoulders.

The fun part – it’s not even about AR!

The game is popular because Pokémon are in its title! Nintendo played a fancy bet on nostalgia. They gambled and they won. Ingress, despite same (and even better) functionality was never a cultural phenomenon. Nor were any other previous AR gaming apps.

Pokémon GO is a buggy product with poor UX, terrible design, lackluster functionality and absolute absence of support, plot or even a decent narrative. And humanity has lost their minds over it. Well, what can be said but, “Well played, Nintendo! Well played in deed!”?

Oh, and speaking of the devil, the game can be dangerous as much as it is fun.

Accessing too much information

Pokémon GO AR app accesses personal info

During the first days of its release, Pokémon GO had unlimited access to Google+ accounts. Many users were unaware of this fact. With full access to Google+ account, Niantic could read your e-mails, write them, inspect Google Docs, access Google drive files, etc.

Luckily, “could” is the best fitting word here. The very first patch for Pokémon GO on iTunes fixed this issue and limited the app’s access to G+ accounts.

Google has a sweet share in Niantic. This means that the company, in theory, can access your Google data anyways. Surely this issue has not been that big of a deal in the first place. However, the precedent is concerning, to say the least.

With a number of potential users growing exponentially, incalculable players will allow Pokémon GO to access critical personal information. Here’s an incomplete list of data types that the game knows about you:

  • E-mail address;
  • IP-address;
  • Username;
  • Geographical location;
  • The web page used before logging on.

Niantic collects all sorts of other information as well. You can trust this company and Google as much as you want, but security issues should still be a concern. Your personal data is at stake after all.

Niantic’s servers are heavily loaded, millions of users are accessing their accounts daily, and a number of users will grow constantly. Additionally, they were not planning to release the app everywhere, and yet Android and iOS allowed users from all around the globe to install the app. Such an environment is perfect for cyber criminals.

While Google can more or less ensure data security on their servers, Niantic may be exposed to cyber-attacks due to less sophisticated cyber-defenses. It is quite possible that Pokémon GO may be hacked at some time in the future. Niantic’s servers have already experienced series of DDoS attacks. What will happen next?

Yes, Niantic may be a trustworthy company that will never use your data for “evil deeds”, but their servers are not as impenetrable as many may think.

This is a big issue. Especially given that the amount of personal information Pokémon GO has access to is not limited to just e-mail addresses and locations. A frightening though in itself, considering the amount of kids out there hunting for monsters.

Well, just in case: The full list of things from your Google+ account, which can be accessed by the application is out here.

More dangers and more concerns

Pokémon GO Augmented Reality application presents danger

Pokémon GO is a spectacular game and has an appealing concept that has some undisputable upsides:

  • It’s healthy. You need to go out more, walk to different destinations, and visit training gyms fairly often. City hiking has a new meaning now.
  • It’s nostalgic. The first Pokémon game of Red, Blue, and Green editions was released in 1996 and sold over 31 million copies. There are millions of loyal fans out there and all of them have smartphones.
  • It’s innovative. Augmented Reality was overshadowed by VR and many users simply never used AR apps. Pokémon GO introduces this technology to millions and does it fashionably.

However, despite its glorious success and glaring advantages, Pokémon GO has some downsides and potentially can cause some critical issues for the society. With so much Pokémon GO praising happening, we want to focus on its downsides for the sake of justice.

  • Gameplay issues. Many Pokémon GO users experience brief service interruptions, connectivity problems, and crashes. Professional game critics are skeptical about clunky controls, messed up interface, and game design in general. These things can be polished and fixed. However, right now Pokemon GO is merely a good game, but a great social application with immense potential.
  • Security issues. We have already covered that the application had unlimited access to your Google+ account before the latest patch. Additionally, there are hundreds of servers running right now and all of them need protection. With so much hype and millions of users joining, we are afraid that Niantic can simply miss some critical security flaws and leak personal data. Hopefully, this doesn’t happen.
  • Issues with law. Multiple law enforcement agencies have warned both Niantic and its users that using Pokémon GO should not cause any legal issues. Right now, many users occasionally trespass private property. Some users were robbed and the robbers used Pokemon GO to track down their victims. These are unexpected yet serious matters that should be addressed immediately and with care.
  • Driving and walking while playing. Many users hunt for new monsters and search for the places of interest while driving or walking around. This may cause car crashes, pedestrian hits, and many other unexpected incidents. This is something we definitely want to avoid. Augmented reality is surely the future of gaming and mobile application development, but AR should not distract from the surrounding, it should augment it. Hopefully, the number of incidents will decline in the future when users get used to playing Pokémon while being aware of surroundings.

Luckily, most of our concerns are not related to the application itself. This game is merely a versatile entertainment tool. However, this tool has unexpected powers and can become dangerous. Users should become more conscious and more responsible for their actions. Then, we can discuss the future of augmented reality projects seriously.

Pokémon GO and the Industry

This game has multiple impacts on our industry. First of all, this is a huge industrial experiment open for any developer. We have the luxury of observing how a huge augmented reality online game affects the market. This is a social and industrial experiment that has global scale and multiple purposes. After the hype cools down, we can use the data to estimate our own projects and develop better AR products.

With the amount of upcoming AR solutions growing each month, we have to put a lot of our apples in this one basket. Fortunately, we have a daring pioneer with an amazingly successful product to test the waters before us.

The sudden success of Pokémon GO opens up new opportunities for the market. Such a huge game will surely attract millions of users and create its own communities. This allows developers to target a new type of audience and cater to its needs. Pokémon GO dating services, Pokémon GO city guides, and lots of other games related applications will flood the market. However, this will happen only if the application is a true success and not a short fluke.

If Pokémon GO lives long enough to create a solid market segment, we will be able to diversify the industry even more and this is a good thing.

More security concerns will emerge with third-party applications appearing in the market. At some point, Niantic will have to develop an API that will have vulnerabilities. Ensuring security is vital for Niantic right now. We strongly believe that a successful application like Pokémon GO can force a market segment to appear. However, security issues concerned Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and other big names. Niantic will face the same problems.

Conclusion

Pokémon GO is surely a successful game with lots of upsides. This is a cultural phenomenon that has roots in another cultural phenomenon that started 20 years ago. Nonetheless, the bigger the phenomenon, the more attention it deserves! Security issues, ethical problems, and many other obstacles are ahead and Pokémon GO has to overcome them in order to become a beacon for our industry!

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