So Pokemon Go launched last Saturday in the Philippines with absolute zero warning. I was on a taxi on my way to an open house hosted by Alliance Francaise when I found out. It was still a couple of hours until Gunship Revolution’s field trip to Manila's French language and culture resource centre so I thought I’d give the global gaming phenomenon a spin. Minutes in and I’m convinced that this game, for better or for worse, is going to be a revelation for lots of folk in freelancing. Here are seven reasons why:
PEOPLE WILL WALK AROUND ANYWHERE IF IT MEANT CHECKING OFF ENOUGH BOXES
When I was in Europe, I lost something like twenty pounds from just walking everywhere. Since I was, for all intents and purposes, a tourist with very limited time, I would usually race from one end of a city to another, running down a list of must-see sights and snapping pictures of everything. Pokemon Go is a similar experience: familiar maps of the usual places gain this additional dimension of things to grab or catch or hatch and all of a sudden, you’re motivated to pass through all these virtual landmarks in five minute intervals without noticing that you’re getting exercise, sunlight, and what will have to pass for fresh air in your area. It taps into the natural pattern-completion aspect of the human mind, the same aspect that responds to that immortal mantra “gotta catch 'em all."
THERE IS ENOUGH REAL WORLD ART AROUND YOU TO MAKE A GAME OUT OF
Just because these landmarks are virtual, doesn’t mean they’re invisible. Pokemon’s on-map spots all correspond to real-world sights including houses of worship, historical markers, parks and pieces public art. If you can pry your mind out of the Pokemon you’re tracking, this can lend an incredible opportunity to discover pieces of local art and architecture you might have been passing by.
IT CAN BE THE PRECURSOR TO NEW MARKETING STRATEGIES
And lure is the operative term here: apparently, if you happen to be situated near a Pokestop (a landmark where free items can be hauled away,) you can load them up with “lure modules" that attract pokemon in the area. Of course, where the Pokemon congregate, players will too: driving foot traffic in tow. Malls, Fairs and even Love Hotels are already using this feature for special promotional gimmicks—perhaps a preview of things to come in the realm of Augmented Reality.
IT CAN ALSO BE A FIRST-PERSON LOOK AT ADDICTION
Pokemon Go takes being engrossed by technology to unprecedented levels: not content in pulling a person out of the surroundings, it manages to pull the person and the surroundings into its constantly-refreshing list of tasks and quests. Those of you who have gained some understanding of addiction theory when online articles on the topic abounded during the heyday of Candy Crush would probably remember that games like these are designed around addiction-forming gestures like popping bubbles and triggering chimes. When associated by positive reenforcement (i.e. capturing Pokemon or getting free stuff to keep capturing said Pokemon), these actions form neural pathways in the brain that further establish that the activity is fun and that you should be doing the activity whenever you feel like having fun. This are also the same neural pathways that cause anxiety whenever the impulse is not sublimated for long enough. Of course, being aware of these physiological phenomena does not do anything to wean you out of an addiction but being aware does tip you off to take a few notes that may be useful for future projects.
FORTUNES CAN BE MADE OUT OF ADDICTIONS TO THIS GAME
There is an economy to be built around this culture of addiction. What personally tipped me off that the release date was coming closer was the news that the local online payment company PayMaya had cemented deals to manage in payment transactions for the game through 7-Elevens. Filipino mobile internet service providers Smart and Globe have declared free Pokemon Go data for the seven days the game is out. I’m not sure if it’s just me being cynical but did anyone else skip the part where they sound generous and went straight to thinking this sounded like a back-alley crack deal. Then again there’s probably a lesson to be learned here about the sheer profitability of one good idea, well executed.
THE COMMUNITY AROUND THIS GAME FORMED A DECADE BEFORE IT WAS RELEASED
Of course, the game could not have made as much money as it did (roughly ten bajillion moneys according to our last estimate) without the massive following the game has had long before the game was even released. Hours into my first Pokemon hunting walk - and I can cover a lot of ground on foot - I had began to recognise faces I’ve encountered miles earlier - people hunched over their screens, walking quickly before suddenly stopping, fidgeting with their devices, grunting in frustration and moving on. And honestly, we were all like that, the lot of us, and I don’t think anyone was going to bother hiding it. Pokemon Go is the closest they’ve gotten to providing an experience players have been dreaming about since the beginning of the franchise. The game is so popular because at its core, it endeavoured to give people what they’ve said they wanted and managed to give a fairly close semblance of it. PVP is still not in the game but we’ve got our fingers crossed.
IT MAKES YOU WONDER ABOUT THE NATURE OF SUCCESS
Considering all these things - the use of augmented reality and real world maps, old psychological tricks and new modes of business, all packed as an adaptation of an Japanese idea people grew up with by an American startup who came into the scene seemingly overnight - it makes a person marvel at the complex interplay of elements that make up huge global movements. Obviously, someone out there is cooking up knock offs (China, for example, is doing well on its own with its own home-brewed app “City Elves Go”) much like how the original Pokemon spawned an entire genre of thirty-minute minion-battling toy commercials around the turn of the millennium. Indeed, with the shockwaves created by such a massive cultural force, it’s likely that the following months will be defined by companies trying to channel the wave into the fields either directly (Pokemon lure parties are getting more and more common even as I write this) or indirectly (using the renewed interest in Augmented Reality technology to launch shelved projects from previous AR busts.
However, the fact that something as massively successful like Pokemon Go only came about through a confluence of chance, hard work, long-term planning and nostalgia should be a sobering thought for anyone looking to this phenomenon as a lesson in overnight success. If you want to be the very best, it appears you have to go into the tall grass for it.
Marthy Angue is Vice President and Pokemon Professor of the Gunship Region.