July 2016 may go down in history as the month that Augmented Reality went mainstream. Augmented Reality’s embrace into the mainstream came from an unlikely source – a game called Pokémon Go. This game has been a huge boon to Nintendo who has seen its stock double since the release of the game. In this blog post we’ll discuss what Augmented Reality is, what Pokémon Go is, how the game works, positives and negatives to the game and more.

What is Augmented Reality?

Augmented Reality (AR) is “a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world, thus providing a composite view.” according to Oxford Dictionaries. This is in essence the addition of items into your view which do not physically exist added to your existing environment. Microsoft recently provided a stunning view of how Augmented Reality could be used at the Worldwide Partner Conference where they showcased how training on an airplane engine could occur using the Hololens. Augmented Reality has practical applications in a number of areas but some of the most impactful ones are in the medical fields. Augmented Reality is often confused with Virtual Reality. These are actually very different technologies. Virtual Reality is “The computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way by a person using special electronic equipment, such as a helmet with a screen inside or gloves fitted with sensors.” according to Oxford Dictionaries. Virtual Reality replaces your current reality with a completely virtual one. If you are interested in seeing where Virtual Reality can take the world to, I recommend reading “Ready Player One” or waiting until 2017/2018 when Steven Spielberg hopefully directs the movie. In the meantime, check out some of the interesting YouTube videos at on this including the one at: https://youtu.be/TQNG_043MVI.

 

What is Pokémon Go?

Pokémon Go is a videogame where the object is to catch Pokemon and to win over control of the Gym’s (or Arena’s). The game integrates Augmented Reality as a core piece of how it is played. The player’s GPS location is used to plot the user on a virtual version of the world such as the one shown below:

During the game, there are locations which exist in the game based upon where you are physically at. As an example there are the following locations:

PokeStop“: PokeStop’s provide items which you can use in Pokemon such as:

  • Poke Balls (used to catch Pokemon)
  • Potions (to heal Pokemon after a battle), revive (to help a fainted Pokemon after they lose a battle)
  • Egg Incubators (to hatch new Pokemon)
  • Incense (to span random Pokemon near you for the next 30 minutes – which is good for when you are out walking)
  • Lucky Eggs (to double experience for a 30 minute timeframe)
  • and other items…

To get items from a PokeStop you need to be close enough to one and then click on it. Once it expands you need to spin the sign on the PokeStop and click on the items it releases (the first screenshot below shows what these look like when you get close enough, the second one shows a blank PokeStop). You can place a Lure in the top white section of the screen (pointed to by the arrow in the second graphic below. Placing a Lure here draws local Pokemon to the PokeStop.

Gym” or in Europe “Arena“: These locations are where you can battle your Pokemon to take control of a Gym (the first screenshot with the spinning blue section is the gym, to the right are two examples showing what happens once you click on the gym. This even includes one of the Catapult Gym’s!)

Additionally, as another part of the AR integration when you attempt to capture a Pokemon it can display your environment with the Pokemon (shown below).

Pokémon Go is a “freemium” game meaning that it is free to play but you can purchase items from the shop in the game to acquire “PokeCoins” (shown below) which in turn can be used to purchase Poke Balls, Incense, Lucky Eggs, Lure Modules, Egg Incubators, bag upgrades (include the maximum number of items you can carry by 50) and Pokemon storage upgrades (increases the maximum number of Pokemon you can carry by 50). There has been a lot of pushback on the concept of freemium games, with the most notable (and funny) one created by SouthPark with their episode “Freemium Isn’t Free“. I will say that I personally hadn’t needed to spend anything on the game until about level 10 so they have done a good job of making it playable without having to spend money.

How does it work?

Pokémon Go runs on Apple and Android devices. It’s a free download which you then need to authenticate through the app’s services (Pokemon Trainer Club) or directly through your Google account.

Once you are authenticated you create your character and you are ready to go! When you are walking about randomly a Pokemon will appear and you click on them to try to capture them (your phone vibrates when one is close to you). To capture them you swipe upward from the Poke Ball towards the Pokemon (think of it as the motion to throw a ball in their direction). If you catch them they go into your inventory. From there the same is pretty straight-forward as you capture more and learn more strategies and visit more places.

Tip: Check out the airports for an incredible number of Pokestop’s and several Gym’s (examples from recent visits to airports are shown below).

Positives:

In a very short time this game has singlehandedly changed the behavior of a large portion of the population in America. We live in a world where kids just don’t go outside and play. With Pokemon Go they are now doing just that and as a parent I couldn’t be happier to see that come back into our culture. This is causing kids (and some adults) to go out an exercise! In order to hatch the eggs which you have in your incubator you need to get out and walk or bicycle ride somewhere between 2-10 KB. Since this released the number of kids walking around or bicycling is exponentially higher in my neighborhood. This is also causing the game players to socialize with other players. The first instances of these occur when kids naturally run into each other while they are playing as there are areas where Pokemon tend to spawn more frequently. After that occurs, teams gather together (yellow, blue or red) and they need to work together in order to battle to win a Gym together. While there is competition for the Gym’s the players have been very civil from what I’ve seen. In our house we have found that playing this together as a team is a good bonding experience especially as it allows the kids to be the teachers and teach the adults how things work in the game. I’ve even seen older groups of young adults playing who work together as a team of up to 10 folks who carpool between locations to play.

Businesses are also getting into the game and making it beneficial for them. One of our local restaurants has four PokeStop’s which they consistently keep Lure’s running on. This is costing them about $6 an hour and bringing in more than a hundred people into the area on a regular basis. McDonalds is also getting into the game (at least in Japan).

Tip: As an interesting note they do have a wearable available called the “Pokemon Go Plus” which lets you know when Pokemon are in the vicinity.

Negatives:

Safety concerns are the big concern for this game. These range from landmines in Bosnia, to car accidents, to robberies, to people shooting at the car of players, to getting in trouble for trespassing, to people visiting areas like memorials which may not be appropriate for players to visit while playing Pokemon. The key on these of course is to be aware of your location at all times and not to take any risks or do something stupid.

Privacy is a second major concern as this application knows a lot about you including where you are at and could keep a history of your travels. With that said, the major vendors do the same thing when you use their maps application…

Bluntly put, you do look strange when playing this game. As an adult I thought that I could pass it off as looking like I was reading email but it just doesn’t fly. With that said, looking strange is a reasonable price to pay. Society is starting to push back on the players of this game as well to make fun of the game but realistically we all should expect that. Since we’re looking strange playing it and we’re doing what appears to be milling about in the middle of nowhere for no reason it only makes sense that there would be some pushback.

Game stability has been another issue. Both on the application side and on the platform side. There have been numerous occasions when it’s not possible to log into the game and on a recent walk over lunch the application crashed over a half a dozen times (which may be heat related as this was outside in Texas). The screenshot below is a regular occurrence in our area indicating that the platform can’t currently handle the number of users attempting to log on or use the game.

Common questions: Some of the common questions which I have run across with answers are as follows.

Is there a chat function in the game? No, currently there is not. Talking needs to occur in person which is really refreshing in today’s world. I expect however that there are most likely people using various chat applications to form groups for communication outside of the game.

Do you need to be connected? To run the game you need to have Internet access and GPS needs to be working.

When I catch a Pokemon does that mean that others cannot? Pokemon spawn uniquely to each user, if you catch one that doesn’t take it away from being able to be caught by another player.

Any tips for leveling up? Save a whole lot of Pokemon, transfer out the ones that you don’t need, use a Lucky Egg to double experience and evolve as many Pokemon as you can during that half an hour. I picked up several levels this way.

Summary: Pokémon Go is a very playable game and it’s having some real impacts in society. Personally, I think that it was genius of Nintendo to utilize the idea of Pokemon and leverage the fan base which was already in place to generate the first major player in the world of Augmented Reality. My recommendation is to catch a few and see what you think for yourself, and while you are doing that think about what could be next in the exciting world of Augmented Reality!