If you haven’t noticed the runaway success of Pokémon Go this past week, you’re living under a rock. Look outside—all those people looking at their phones, glancing around, and walking slowly into traffic (hopefully not) are playing the hottest new augmented reality (AR) game. The word on the street is that this is the future of gaming. Perhaps it is. But it’s certainly not the first augmented reality game. The toy industry has been taking shots at this category for years with little to no success. At Toy Fair 2012, WowWee introduced its App Gear line.
Pop your smartphone into a physical blaster toy, and shoot at enemies who seem to appear in the real world. This type of shooting game would never fly in today’s environment, but it didn’t really fly in 2012 either. But why?
Simply overlay a fun game on top of what you see through a smart device’s camera and there you have it: augmented reality. So why is Pokémon Go taking off like it’s the coolest thing we’ve ever seen? I’m betting there are a number of toy industry execs shaking their heads and asking this question.
1. Pokémon is a hot property. Sometimes it takes one of the hottest licenses to give a toy or game the notoriety it needs to get people interested. Pokémon was super hot when millennials were kids, and the card game is now hot again with young kids.
2. It’s free. It costs nothing to download the game, except your data usage…
3. It’s easy to get into. Everyone already has a smart device and there’s no commitment here. You download the game and start playing. There is no learning curve; it takes a minute to download and get started, and if you don’t like it, delete it. You can also play it on your own time for any length of time, so the flexibility can’t be beat. You level up quickly, too, so there’s early encouragement not to quit once you’ve captured a couple of Pokémon.
4. Millennials love it. And once this gang likes something it’s going to take off. Much like Sunday brunch and making up slang, millennials can make a trend happen. It’s like they’re all friends in a secret club and once you’re in with them you’re solid gold. Pikachu, they choose you! Younger millennials also tend to have less disposable income and more free time on their hands, so Pokémon Go is really a perfect fit. Plus, taking pictures with the Pokémon you’re about to capture is pretty hip.
5. It has a broad audience. It’s not just millennials who love this game. Kids who are old enough to have access to a smart device and wander about town are also into it, but I’m seeing far more millennials get sucked into it. Even the elusive teenage market is into it, baffling parents everywhere. Gen Xers like myself have collectively decided we’re too mature for this nonsense but some of us are playing it anyway (ssh, it’s uh, research!).
6. You can’t ignore the collectibility factor. Collectible toys are a huge trend in the toy industry, and Pokémon has been encouraging us to “Collect ’em All!” for years. Players of Pokémon Go really, really want to collect ’em all—no matter how much of a burden it is to go find them.
8. A trend is a trend. Once a toy or game takes off, there’s no stopping it. It just has to run its course. We don’t always understand why or how a trend happens, but it does. The difference here is that it could mean a big leap forward in gaming.
Is Pokémon Go the future of gaming? Augmented reality is not new. AR apps are not new. But this game could give the category the encouragement, strength, and backing it needs to take off.