If you haven’t experienced the latest craze yet, you probably will soon. Pokémon Go is a spin on the beloved video game classic that features augmented reality (AR). Its “AR mode” allows players to attempt to catch Pokémon in real-time, as if the Pokémon was right there with them.
The popularity of this app is unquestionable. Splotches of millennials can be seen anywhere from the local downtown to the beach chasing down a Pikachu. Excited yelps and frustrated exclamations can be overheard. Even middle-aged adults are in the loop. Visiting traffic reached 4 million on July 6. Both the daily active users and average usage time exceeded that of Twitter, Snapchat, and Facebook Messenger within the first week of Pokémon’s release. Pokémon Go’s retention rate, or the rate of how many users keep the app around for longer than 3 to 7 days, was double the gaming average at around 70% in the first few days of the release.
So what makes the game so popular? The key to Pokémon Go’s (perhaps continuing) success is its nostalgic quality for millennials who grew up with twenty years of Pokémon. Pokémon Go’s nostalgic appeal is distinctly different from more recent games like Candy Crush and Angry Birds, which lack the endearing familiarity and unending diversity of hundreds of Pokémon characters.
Augmented reality games fuse the digital with the physical. It differs from virtual reality (VR) in that users are not completely immersed into a digital experience but have one foot in both worlds. The technology of the digital world is experienced without compromising the vibrancy of the everyday world. Further, a 2002 study predicted also that the popularity and playability of AR games would come from physical movement, which is essentially the design focus of Pokémon Go.
Pokémon Go’s viability and lasting popularity will mostly depend on Niantic’s ability to keep its users’ interests, primarily by releasing the right updates at the right times. A wide range of possibilities like battling, trading, more species of Pokémon, and even in-app messaging (which boosts retention rates by threefold) are still up for grabs. As long as the company manages its updates and overcrowded servers in an efficient manner, Pokémon Go just might end up being more than a fad.
What does this tell us about the future of AR gaming? Pokémon Go is definitely not the first of its kind. The first AR prototypes were created in a Harvard laboratory in the 1960s, and games like AR Edibear and AR Tower Defense are predecessors to the monster-hunting phenomenon. Dozens of augmented reality games are currently in stock in the App Store, and upcoming AR games include Honorable Mention: The Foo Show and House of the Dying Sun.
Pokémon Go is just the tip of the iceberg of AR gaming. True augmented reality games involve wearing a legitimate headset and more dynamic mapping of the user’s surroundings. However, Pokémon Go has gained the public’s attention with what may lie ahead.
AR games are likely to be met with the public’s embrace because they have been eased into the technology. As of April 2016, the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of the global augmented reality market was projected to reach 75.72% between 2016 and 2022. Recently, Apple has even caught on to the craze and has invested in researching the technology and possibly implementing it into future devices. AR is a highly valuable investment; the technology will not die any time soon. Applications of AR technology even reach beyond the field of gaming into medical, military, architectural ones, to name a few.
The key for Niantic and future AR technologies will to be to keep users’ interests up so that the potential for augmented reality can be fully realized.