Nick Wingfield / Mike Isaac: Pokémon Go brings augmented reality to a mass audience
(A) There are video games that go viral overnight, causing people to coop themselves up in their homes for days to play. But the opposite has happened with Pokémon Go, a free smartphone game that has soared to the top of the download charts: It has sent people into streets and parks, onto beaches and even out to sea in a kayak in the week since it was released. The game - in which players try to capture
exotic monsters from Pokémon, the Japanese cartoon franchise - uses a combination of ordinary technologies built into smartphones, including location tracking and cameras, to encourage people to visit public landmarks, seeking virtual loot and collectible characters that they try to nab.
(B) Boon Sheridan, a resident of Holyoke, Massachusetts, has seen the activity firsthand. His home, a converted gable-roofed church that once attracted worshipers, had without his knowledge been
designated a Pokémon “gym,” a place where players who reach Level 5 in the game must go to train their Pokémon characters. In the last week, as the game became the most downloaded app, he has been wondering how to explain to neighbors all the people who congregated on the sidewalk and pulled up at odd hours. “I want to make sure I tell them, ‘Hey, I’m not a drug dealer,’” Mr. Sheridan said. “I know there are people pulling up in front of the house all the time, but trust me I have no say in this.”
(C) On Sunday, San Francisco’s parks and downtown were crawling with Pokémon Go players while in Washington, the White House and the Pentagon have been designated official Pokémon gyms. A bar in Harrisonburg, Virginia, was offering a 10 percent discount to Pokémon Go players on a specific team, while a tea shop in Japantown in San Francisco offered a “buy one tea, get one free” deal to Pokémon Go players. The number of daily active users on Android devices in the United States alone was closing in
on the usage of Twitter, the data analytics firm Similar Web estimated. Pokémon Go represents one of those moments when a new technology - in this case, augmented reality or A.R., which fuses digital technology with the physical world - breaks through from a niche toy for early adopters to something much bigger. The idea behind the technology is to overlay digital imagery on a person’s view of the real world, using a smartphone screen or a headset.
(D) But Pokémon Go’s public nature is also causing unforeseen side effects, attracting crowds that disturb homeowners and creating opportunities for criminals to lure players to remote areas where they can be targeted for theft. In Australia, police have issued tips for how roving Pokémon Go players can safely play the game.
(E) Many technology companies thought A.R. might first take off through specialized business
applications that, for example, allow architects to visualize finished building projects in situ. Instead, it took a game based on a beloved entertainment franchise from the mid-1990s in Japan to help the technology go mainstream.
(F) Pokémon, a hybrid of the words “pocket” and “monsters,” belongs to the Pokémon Company, which is partly owned by Nintendo, the Japanese game pioneer, which has struggled to adapt to the era of
gaming on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. The uptake of Pokémon Go, which is so far available only in the United States, Australia and New Zealand, has been so furious that it sent Nintendo’s market capitalization soaring $9 billion.
(G) Pokémon Go, though, is actually the work of a start-up, Niantic Inc., which was created inside Google and spun out of the company last year. Niantic partnered with the Pokémon Company to make Pokémon
Go. Like the most successful mobile games, while Pokémon Go is free to play, it gives players opportunities to buy virtual items for a few dollars to speed up their progress. The game’s real-world nature also gives Niantic another intriguing moneymaking possibility, by charging fast-food restaurants, coffee shops and other retail establishments to become locations where people are motivated to go to pick up virtual loot.
(H) Jan Dawson, a technology analyst at Jackdaw Research, said Pokémon Go’s success was an important moment for augmented reality, mainly because it doesn’t require expensive extra equipment like a headset, which virtual reality games often need. “This clearly demonstrates that A.R. can cross over into the mainstream on the devices people already have in at least some cases,” he said. “But it doesn’t necessarily do anything for the kind of A.R. and V.R. experiences big companies are piling so much
(I) For players, Pokémon Go has been a health booster and a social cementer. Kay Collins, a 22-year-old health care worker in San Francisco, played the game for half a day straight on Sunday, including while waiting in line at a tattoo parlor. “My pedometer says whenever I play the game I take more steps than I used to before I started playing this game,” she said. Brad Ensworth, a San Francisco State University
student who played the game over the weekend, said he had never been a fan of augmented reality gaming before Pokémon Go, but was drawn in by the game’s surprisingly social aspect. “You’ll just run into people and spark up conversations immediately,” he said while playing the game in Golden Gate Park. “We met this one guy who drove up from San Jose to collect Pokémon in the park, and he had more knowledge about this game than anyone else we’ve met so far. We called him the Guru.”
Aus: Nick Wingfield / Mike Isaac: Pokémon Go Brings Augmented Reality to a Mass Audience., New York Times, 2016-07-12