AR & VR in the age of Pokemon GO
At a time where augmented reality (AR) wasn’t in the public eye, one mobile game catapulted AR into the lives of millions of people around the world. Pokemon GO, which was released on July 6th 2016 by Niantic, ushered in a new age of AR in mainstream media, shining a spotlight on a form of technology that, until that point, had not been a very well-known subject to the general public. In the year since Pokemon GO has released, the interest surrounding AR and virtual reality (VR) technologies is higher than ever; and with the popularity surrounding Pokemon GO, the Pokemon franchise has gone through its largest boom since its inception, only adding to the popularity of the franchise after its 20th anniversary last year. As the first anniversary of the game’s release arrives, Pokemon GO is thriving with new content (including its very first live event coming up in Chicago’s Grant Park), only adding to its AR world of fantasy creatures that has been downloaded over 750 million times.
Now, AR is not a new concept – in fact, AR has been featured in many forms in movies and television for quite a few years. Think of the holograms in Iron Man that could be brought up with a flick of the wrist; things that are typically seen as futuristic are being brought into development everyday, and Pokemon GO’s success has only increased the research and interest in AR technology. Pokemon GO is historic in that it is the game that brought AR to the mainstream, encouraging groups of people to go hunt down their favourite monsters all across the world using only their phones. It was a common thing right after GO’s release to see mobs of people swarm to specific areas if there was a rare Pokemon nearby like Snorlax, or a fully evolved Pokemon like Vaporeon, a prized gym defender. Now, a common sight is to see groups of people gathering around a Pokemon gym to battle extremely high-levelled Pokemon called ‘raid bosses.’
Unlike VR, AR requires the user to interact with their real life environment, as opposed to immersing themselves in a completely virtual world. This is how Pokemon GO appealed to such a wide audience – by combining the real world with an already beloved franchise. GO has one of the largest range of ages in players for a mobile game; from the very young to those in their 80s, GO has successfully introduced AR to several generations of people, and with that, increased the development of AR technologies. And its impact on the AR market is quite apparent: according to Digi-Capital, the AR/VR market will be worth approximately $108 billion by 2021. Forbes, in an infographic about Pokemon GO, says that social networks and location-based applications (like GO, and Niantic’s first release Ingress) are the ones who will benefit most from AR technology, and most revenue will come from devices like tablets and smart glasses (development of which has increased after the letdown of Google Glass). Investments into AR-development companies has also increased exponentially: companies like Magic Leap have gained billions of dollars in investments despite never having released a product, and giants like Apple, Intel, and Facebook are investing heavily into the AR and VR market – Facebook most notably with its acquisition of Oculus Rift. Chips are being developed to allow new phones and tablets run AR environments with ease, as demonstrated with the recent release of Apple’s ARKit. Pokemon GO plans to take advantage of ARKit with an upcoming feature called AR Playground, which will allow players to freely place Pokemon in the environment around them.
With these sorts of developments coming to Pokemon GO, it will be interesting to see how they progress. AR Playground will allow players to place Pokemon into their environment, but further development could perhaps integrate features similar to the Pokemon Amie and Pokemon Refresh modes in Pokemon XY and Pokemon Sun and Moon for the 3DS. There are hints of this with the new motivation mechanic in Pokemon GO, which requires players to travel to different gyms that their team controls and feed the Pokemon stationed there berries so as to boost its motivation and prevent the Pokemon from losing its spot, and subsequently the team’s control of the gym. The addition of the motivation mechanic, as well as the AR Playground feature, are both significant steps towards making Pokemon GO real to the player – a true, fully immersive AR experience.
The success of Pokemon GO in the last year has indirectly been one of the greatest marketing tools for the Pokemon Company and the release of the main series Pokemon Sun and Moon for the 3DS. Coming right off the heels of the 20th anniversary celebration for the Pokemon franchise, Pokemon GO introduced an entirely new generation to Pokemon. Interest in other Pokemon games increased significantly: Sun and Moon were the most pre-ordered games in Nintendo’s history, and the game has sold upwards of 15.44 million units, resulting in a 2458% increase in profits for the Pokemon Company in 2016. Pokemon GO also helped to boost sales of the 3DS console – the increase in popularity was so great that the 3DS family of units was extremely hard to find during the holiday 2016 season, as all of the consoles had sold out at major retailers. Nintendo heavily promoted Sun and Moon during the holiday season, having sales reps in major retail locations demo the game to new players, most of which having been introduced to the franchise because of Pokemon GO. GO has not just been influential to the AR and VR market – its ties with the console Pokemon games have shown that a free-to-play AR game can be of great benefit to gaming companies. App developers are devoting their resources to AR, and companies that were on the fence have started to invest in AR technology.
It’s clear that Pokemon GO has been extremely influential to the AR and VR market in the past year. The game recently crossed 750 million downloads; it took a mere 19 days for the app to cross 50 million downloads, and it is the fastest mobile game to earn $600 million in revenue, clocking in at 90 days. Its influence on the public’s exposure to AR and VR technology is undeniable, and with its new battle systems, along with the new features on the way, Pokemon GO will continue to be a prime example of what AR can do and how it can influence the world around us. Apple CEO Tim Cook said it best: “…AR can be really great. We have been and continue to invest a lot in this. We are high on AR for the long run. We think there are great things for customers and a great commercial opportunity… it will be huge.”
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