App Insights

Pokemon Go: The phenomenon unwrapped

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Within five days of its launch, Nintendo’s market value had increased by $9billion. It has users in over 26 countries and, for an app that crashed with alarming regularity, it was one of the stickiest downloads on the market: 7 out of 10 people who download the app returned the next day.

We’re talking, of course, about the global phenomenon that is Pokémon Go.

Stats aside, the game has proved something of a watershed moment for location based AR, a tech that we’ve been shouting about for years (15 to be exact). With that in mind, we put a few questions to the office about the whys, the hows and the what nexts, for Pokémon Go.

Why do you think Pokémon Go is so successful?

Charlie Harman:

Well, first of all, it’s the success of Pokémon as a whole that’s provided the basis of its popularity: it’s a well established brand unto itself. Not only young people who always play app games are getting involved, it’s reached the 20-30 age bracket thanks to nostalgia. On a deeper level, there’s a basic human instinct that connects us to place which the game taps into brilliantly.

Kieron Gurner:

I’d think it’s a mix of:

Ben Clayton:

Tony Briscoe:

Pablo Carrillo:

Tom Melamed:

Jo Reid

What happens now? – Is it a flash in the pan, or will it progress? What do you think the next steps in evolving Pokémon go are?

KG: There’s so much that they could do with the game, it’s difficult to say where it could go: interacting with other players, bringing the battle mechanism into general gameplay (like the original game series), introducing more characters.

I think the popularity will wane after a short time, but, as Tom suggested, if you’ve got 10M users to start with (and from the speculative guesses I’ve seen, it’s a lot more than that), even if you dropped to 1%, you still have 100,000 users who are engaged that you could build from.

PC: They could also build communities around gyms and the like to people can interchange Pokémons and other things related to the game. That could reap a lot of revenue.


Do you think this has opened the floodgates for AR/ ‘In real life apps’?

KG: I think the huge popularity of it will expand people’s perceptions of what these kinds of games can be like, and hopefully encourage more interest in located experiences. There are already a number of games using similar game mechanics. Aside from the horror stories, there’s also discussion about how it’s helping people socially, getting people outside and walking – so I can imagine that idea will be persistent after the craze ends, and possibly inspire a new wave of located games.

BC: The AR mode is a gimmick, really. It’s much easier to catch Pokémon with the AR mode off, so I have it turned off like most other players. However, I fully expect there to be a number of location-based games launched within weeks using similar mapping technology. Apparently, China cloned Pokémon Go before it even launched

TM: I think before this there has always been the nagging doubt about whether people would ever really get up out of their chairs and go outside and explore just because an app told them to. That question has been answered emphatically. I think this will encourage more people to experiment with In Real Life apps. Many of them might lack a strong enough incentive or motivation to get people out and about but some of them will succeed. Now people know it’s possible I expect lots more attempts.

Can you think of some hypothetical examples of how similar technology could be used in more ‘serious’ apps?  How might businesses take advantage of this popularity to make other apps better?

KG: Hanna [Polanowska, Calvium’s Technical Project Manager] showed me “iButterfly” last week, which is a geo-located AR app in Japan from 2010 that used similar technology – and allowed businesses to create coupon “butterflies”, which users would have to catch to get a discount.


I’m not sure whether that approach of merging games with consumerism works, but it’s an interesting example of how business can attempt to broaden their horizons – especially as people become more comfortable with this kind of tech.

BC: The classic example of this idea we saw way back in our days at HP was an idea that companies would pay to have important parts of a location-based game occur outside their shop.

In a way, this is already happening with the ‘Lure’ modules.  I’m pretty certain the Café Gusto opposite us is regularly purchasing (with real money!) Lure modules to make Pokémon appear right outside their premises.  There was a story recently about how the Church of England was encouraging the use of Pokémon Go to get people into their churches (or at least outside, frantically tapping at their phones).

PC: Definitely. It has single-handedly made location based games mainstream and proved that companies willing to invest in new ideas can succeed. People, in general, will grow accustomed to something different.

JR: The game has established a successful model by which companies who already own media assets and a well known brand can re-use those assets in a new way, by laying them out on the real world. Calvium has the expertise to create the kind of platforms and experience design to help companies do this and so we hope that it can be repeatable and growing genre.

For the Enterprise space, those companies who have real world infrastructure—pipes, cables, buildings—can look to incorporating context-aware help, training and simulations to their staff.

TM: I’m sure 10 different companies are working on a Pokémon and Tinder type app! But more seriously, the style of causally interacting with content as you walk through the world could create some interesting opportunities but the motivation to keep the app open needs to be quite high. One of the things that Pokémon has shown is that the content doesn’t have to be closely tied to the locations just loosely associated.

So, you could imagine laying all kinds of things over the real world and getting people to interact with them. But it still feels like games and experiential applications like heritage, tourism and education are likely to be the easiest next steps for this wave.

What do you think the impact Pokémon Go will have on the type of geolocation apps we have built in the past?

CH: I certainly think it has aided in the understanding of AR/Geolocation, and I think that will have a tremendous effect on other AR apps’ popularity. Even just two years ago, finding the correct words and phrases to talk about the heritage apps we build was horses’ work. Now, I feel like I could write Augmented Reality or ‘In Real Life’ apps and a good proportion of the population would understand what that meant.

KG: I’d like to think people will start looking for located experiences more – but that may be optimistic. I agree that it’s made people aware that this kind of thing exists now, though, whereas before, people weren’t always convinced how immersive an experience on a phone could be – now there’s clear proof it can work.

PC: Hopefully it will create a demand for more immersive experiences, like bringing a historical character in an apptrail location app that can point you to things on-screen or show how something looked a while ago.

JR: Lost Palace is an interesting juxtaposition, there we have embedded location-aware technologies to deliver a more meaningful long form of bringing a place alive.


I think there will be demand for the ability to package together different capabilities for the companies that want to experiment in this space and create a distinctive offering.

What else about the Pokémon Go phenomenon interests or surprises you?

CH: It’s interesting the stark differences in reactions people have had. There’s always a sense of hesitancy in accepting tech like this. In one way, mixing technology and the real world is amazing, in another, it scares people. There’s something very eerie/Black Mirror-esque in being so involved/obsessed in a world that isn’t there. I think inevitably money will come into the question and make it feel sinister. Ergo:


HYPER-REALITY from Keiichi Matsuda on Vimeo.

I’m also pretty astounded by people’s patience with it! You can barely get on the app, it drains your battery, but people persevere. No other app would have this kind of immediate loyalty. It’s like they have jumped from awareness to loyalty and skipped the rest. That further proves how just how powerfully popular it is.

KG: The patience issue is an interesting one. No-one would engage with another app that broke every 10 minutes and keep on playing regardless. That’s a sure way to get deleted. But people haven’t.

This is probably down to the mass appeal of the brand, novel game mechanics that people want to explore, the media hype making everyone want to experience it now, and you don’t lose very much if it does crash…so maybe it doesn’t seem critical. But still, most people would have deleted any other app by now.

The reactions have been interesting – especially from people deriding it for it either being for kids, or a bad way to get people outside…but to me, this reminds me of the fear people have when any new kind of technology is released.

JR: The speed of adoption. Twitter took 780 days to reach 10 million users; Facebook took 852 days to reach 10 million users I expect PG has surpassed this by a long way. In the US alone on 13th July they thought it was used by 10 million people, before it even came to the UK. I have never known something to take off this fast.

On the day of the UK launch I was in a restaurant and 4 out of 5 people were playing on the tables around me. The waiter noticed I was playing and said he hoped that I was catching good Pokémon as the kitchen had put up a lure especially. I don’t think we’ll see anything quite like it for a very long time.

So there you have it. Pokémon has surpassed all reasonable expectations of popularity and has blown the gates wide open for businesses on the fence about AI location apps. The question now for businesses is, how can we make this work for us. The demand is clearly there, but any evolution has to be done intelligently.

And while it’s interesting to see where Pokemon will go next, more interesting for us is the potential its popularity has afforded the rest of the world.

01/11/16 UPDATE: Following the release of this blog, the Calvium team have since published a paper discussing Pokemon Go & what it’s success means for those who seek to connect people with place via apps. You can download it for free below…

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