"Pokémon GO" recently launched as the third app from former Google/Alphabet company Niantic Labs. The game has been a bigger success than Niantic, Nintendo or The Pokémon Company anticipated, acquiring 15 million users and more than $14 million in in-app purchases in just the first week since its release. While the initial excitement will not last forever, the splash "Pokémon GO" is making is incredibly important to the future of technology.
Niantic's last app — its first video game — was called "Ingress." "Ingress" introduced players to a sci-fi world of conspiracies, alien influences and battles between competing factions, all happening in secret throughout the world, where players could control and link “portals” to create “control fields” and convert “mind units” to their beliefs. "Ingress" continues to be one of the largest examples of an augmented reality game — a game that builds its game mechanics on the real world, rather than a purely fictional one.
But in addition to being an augmented reality game, I would primarily consider "Ingress" to be an alternate reality game — one that seeks to create its own story on top of, but separate from, the real world. "GO," on the other hand, tries to create a reality within the real world. Where advanced "Ingress" strategy often involved sitting in front of an intel map planning intercity links and control fields, "GO" focuses on getting players to visit discrete locations, and encourages looking at the real world — and other players — along the way. It even incorporates additional augmented reality features, such overlaying game elements on the phone's camera view, so players can continue looking at the real world even while looking at their phones.
But as exciting as it is to see a Pikachu (or, more likely, yet another Ratatta) on your desk, the truly revolutionary thing "GO" has done is make augmented reality and geocaching-type experiences mainstream. Explaining the idea of running around with your phone out to chase an invisible creature or control an invisible structure sounds ridiculously silly — I know because I tried to explain "Ingress" and "GO" to colleagues while I was in the "GO" beta, and many of them laughed or looked at me like I was insane. But as soon as the game launched publicly, most of them were as dedicated to the game as I was.
Because "GO" uses a popular franchise, Pokémon, players are willing to overcome the slightly higher barrier to entry and give the game a shot, and now that the game has hit (and vastly exceeded) critical mass, the game's reality is starting to bleed back into the real world, with people putting up signs at PokéStops and Gyms around the world on a scale never before seen with a game like this. Businesses are finding ways to use the game to attract customers, for instance, by offering discounts to members of the different "GO" teams, or placing lures on nearby PokéStops to attract wild Pokémon (and, as a result, potential customers trying to catch them). The end result is not just success for "Pokémon GO," but Niantic getting millions of people acquainted with augmented reality in under a week.That is how "Pokémon GO" is helping move us toward the future of technology. Augmented reality products like the Meta 2, Google Glass and Microsoft HoloLens are going to be more widely available in the next few years, and they promise a world in which computer interfaces are no longer bound to glass rectangles in our hands, but today, "Pokémon GO" is paving the way. Thanks to "GO," many more users are becoming comfortable with the idea of digital content overlaid on the physical world, businesses are thinking about how a digital presence can extend beyond the status message, and other software developers have a proven example of an augmented reality experience succeeding at a global scale. The future is just beginning.