So Pokemon Go happened this week. Did Donald Trump announce a running mate? You don’t know; you were catching a Bulbasaur by the park. Did Microsoft win a major court appeal? Nobody cares — there’s an Oddish by the mall.
— Giuseppe Liquori (@gliquori413) July 15, 2016
Millions of people began playing the game this week, and the game received an equally astounding amount of coverage online. Since you can’t read ’em all, I’ve truncated the Pokemon Go coverage for you into the three most salient categories:
Stories about Pokemon Go players doing crazy things
Pokemon Go players have found dead bodies, fallen off cliffs, been stabbed and robbed, and been asked to cool it at the Holocaust and Auschwitz museums. Perhaps most significantly, though, is that Pokemon Go players are going outside for leisure, something most Americans haven’t done since air conditioning was invented.
Stories about Pokemon Go‘s broader impact
Plenty of stories this week assessed the game as something more than a fad. Om Malik, formerly of Gigaom notoriety, hit on perhaps the most important point: That, for many people, Pokemon Go is the first introduction to useful augmented reality.
To be clear, the game isn’t true augmented reality (that would require the Pokemon to be overlaid directly on the user’s field of view, as with a HoloLens headset), but it gives players the gist of mixing what’s really there with what isn’t.
Since Pokemon Go works well, it could be a gateway to consumer demand for more augmented reality products. Malik explains a recent trip to a museum:
“I felt as if I should be able to lift my phone and get more details on the process of the creation of the art work, rather than having to type a search term into my browser. Pokemon Go had changed my expectations on how to access information. That shift in expectation, perhaps, is the game’s true importance.”
Pokemon Go is a technological pioneer, but its popularity can also be attributed to the way its designers trick your brain. The game is an MMO, or massively multiplayer online, title, meaning thousands of players can link up and compete in this digital (um, physical?) geography. As psychologist Jamie Madigan (whom we’ve spoken to about video game addiction) told Wired, Pokemon Go players are motivated by action, social experiences, mastery, immersion, creativity, and achievement experiences, all of which build on each other in a game that inspires compulsory play. “You get more Pokemon so you can not only fill in your Pokedex, but also so you can get resources to train and level up what you already have,” Madigan said.
Of course, Pokemon Go is also a business story. You’ve heard about the boost its giving primary stakeholders Niantic, Nintendo, and the Pokemon Co., but it’s another coup for the mobile gaming and AR powerhouse Unity Technologies.
Unity, which has an office in Bellevue, is the game engine that ushered in mobile gaming, but it’s also the platform that has allowed VR and AR programs to be created far more quickly and cheaply than in previous years. So it’s no surprise that a mobile, AR game is built on Unity.
Stories that take Pokemon Go WAY too serious
As the internet is prone to do, many writers started loosely tying Pokemon Go into anything they could in an attempt to boost page views (at least I hope their intentions were that deliberate). But one in particular takes the cake:
Hoo boy, that’s quite the claim. Let’s dive in:
You can spend money on Pokemon Go too. But the economics of the game are very different. When you spend money on items in the Pokemon Go world, it doesn’t go into the pocket of a local Pokemon entrepreneur — it goes into the pockets of the huge California– and Japan-based global companies that created Pokemon Go.
So next time you buy a product, make sure it was produced by a company headquartered within 20 miles of you. Got it. Next!
But the Pokemon Go economy also has some real downsides. One has to do with regional inequality. Nintendo and its partners are rumored to be earning more than $1 million per day from Pokemon Go. That money is flowing away from small and medium cities and toward big technology companies concentrated in big cities.
Just to clarify: The “Pokemon Go economy” is a clickbait version of saying the digital economy. The author, Vox’s Timothy B. Lee, is talking about tech companies. And again, he’s railing on globalization in all its forms here. If you hate that your consumer spending props up someone other than your neighbor, then yes, you probably agree with the above statement. I’m sorry you have to shop at Walmart and Costco and Amazon and use an iPhone and drive a Nissan and eat bananas. Next!
In the 20th century, new industries tended to create a lot of demand for capital. It took a lot of cash to build assembly lines and movie studios, of course. But beyond that, thousands of people all over the country would go to their local banks to finance the construction of movie theaters, auto dealerships, and so forth. … But the Pokemon Go economy is different. Nintendo and its partners obviously needed to invest some cash in hiring programmers and designers to build the game. But the sums involved here are tiny compared with the cost of building a new car assembly line. And Pokémon Go seems unlikely to produce very many opportunities for complementary local businesses.
Now we’re getting somewhere. One reason tech companies (excuse me, excuse me — Pokemon Go economy companies) are so flush with cash is that they don’t have to hire huge amounts of laborers nor build factories. The middle class everybody in the U.S. misses hinged on building physical objects. Software isn’t something you can see and touch, so tech firms aren’t going to employ droves of former riveters.
So, yes, the nature of the economy is shifting from goods to services, and globalization is a thing. That doesn’t warrant such exaggerations as Lee’s opening paragraph:
Last week, two things happened that will have long-lasting impact on American society and the global economy. First, the yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to a record low of 1.366 percent. Second, Nintendo released Pokemon Go, a mobile game that in a matter of days has become a viral sensation.
I imagine this story was preceded by something like “How Fruit Ninja is ruining kids’ appreciation for healthy eating.” I eagerly await the next viral analysis.