Pokémon Go users, gotta catch em all

We see them in the streets and in our shopping malls. Frantically swiping their phones and battling each another’s Pokémon for points and bragging rights. These are the app users of Pokémon Go, a new augmented reality(AR) or virtual reality(VR) mobile app which has seen over ten million downloads in less than one week.

Like it or not, there are some major learning lessons we can take away from the Pokémon Go epidemic. I am calling it an epidemic because it is by far one of the most viral apps we have seen in quite a while. Let’s examine what Niantic, makers of Pokémon Go, did so well in their development and execution of the app.

The game takes place in the real world

When most people think of playing video games, they think of sitting on the couch and staring at a screen while exerting the minimum amount of physical energy possible. Nintendo Wii changed that way of thinking to a certain degree by introducing games that required physical movement to interact, however, they still took place from the comfort of your own living room.

With games using AR technology, the entire physical world is now the playing arena. This means users must walk, run, bike and move around the physical world in order to complete tasks required to advance in the game.

This guy now has people pulling up in front of his house like stalkers tapping on their smartphones all hours of the day and night because his house is a Pokémon gym. By looking at his Twitter feed he seems to be mostly a good sport about it though.

The game blurs the lines between what is real and what is virtual. A major feature of the application includes the virtual creatures showing up in your camera view embedded into the real world around you. This taps into a fantasy many of the app users have to experience what it would be like to live in a world where the creatures actually exist among us. AR makes it easier than ever to be fully immersed in the game’s plot and live the true role of your character.

It taps into our competitive nature

Pokémon Go requires you to spend time hunting down creatures and then powering them up at virtual gyms found in real life locations. Users can then challenge other users by taking over a rival team’s gym or battling their Pokémon for points. If a user neglects to defend their gym it can be lost. This is what makes the game so addicting. Users feel that if they don’t keep playing, they will miss out on potential Pokémon, lose their gym or simply fall behind in the game while their friends continue to advance beyond them.

What is more interesting is that the demographic is not limited to the younger crowd like the other traditional Pokémon games were. Instead, this new application is attracting people of all age demographics including people in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. This shows the makers not only understood how to tap into viral sharing aspects of human psychology, but they also understood how to touch our competitive nature. In fact, Pokémon Go currently has more daily active users than Twitter! Users are also spending more time using the app than many major social networks.

Users are getting all the exercise

One reason many gamers use to finally pull themselves away from a video game is the realization that they need to get outside and do some physical activity. It can feel bad to sit on a couch all day and do nothing productive with your time. With Pokémon Go, users are already doing that while they play and it gives the users a really good feeling of accomplishment. The game takes place throughout the course of their day as they navigate their way through the physical world. There have been social posts of users complaining their feet are sore and their legs hurt, but they can’t stop walking around hunting Pokémon.

In addition to this, there really are gyms and Pokémon that can be found in all sorts of locations all over the world. By using the app you may find new places of interest right in your own town that you never even knew existed.

The social response and PR was very strong

Immediately after the game launched, people took to social networks and posted about it. Major publications wrote articles about it. And people talked about it with their friends. Whether or not you have an interest in playing the game or care to know how it works, you probably already have heard quite a bit about it unless you live under a rock.

One of the more interesting sharable components of the game and likely the reason it caught on so quick is largely due to the fact the game does take place in the real world. So users can snap pictures of a recognizable place with a friendly little creature hanging out. Many users would even go as far to stage the image with a person or object in the background interacting with the Pokémon creature.


All this viral exposure took the internet by storm and it’s the reason the app is now number 1 on the app markets and has tens of millions of downloads. Whats even more interesting is the numbers behind the app itself. Nintendo and Niantic spent roughly $30 million building the game and taking it to market. The company is currently making $1.6 million per day from the app and growing. In less than 3 weeks the developers will fully recoup their investment and start to profit. Not to mention, Nintendo stock is going through the roof and Wall Street has been eating it up!

What we learned

Many times we think of old trends as a thing of the past, but using the right combination of technology and human psychology we can literally transform a business overnight and make a massive revolution that overtakes existing dominant social platforms in less than one week time. The world is so dynamic and trends evolve very quickly with technology, but AR is just getting started and does not appear to be going anywhere for a while. This is one of the rare but notable cases where building a fully fleshed out application instead of a minimum viable product turned into a huge hit overnight.