Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few weeks, you’ll be well aware of the popularity of Pokemon GO. It has already overtaken Twitter in daily active users and sees people spending more minutes in the app than on Facebook - no easy feat. And walking the streets has become that little bit more tricky as we negotiate hordes of heads-down Pikachu hunters!
But this isn’t just a popular game: it’s been an interesting wake up call for whole mobile space. In the case of gaming, in particular, there’s been a certain amount of stagnation in recent years. Titles have refined and finessed a number of pretty well-worn formulas. But similar to the way that the Nintendo Wii re-imagined the console, Pokemon GO has opened everyone’s eyes to new and really quite different opportunities.
The game itself is of course quite different to anything else out there, and that difference derives from the innovative combination of location (always a key mobile differentiator, but publishers have perhaps never quite realized it) and augmented reality. It is already converting non-gamers to their space in their droves. But its success contains plenty of lessons for other verticals.
Consider dating, retail, sports, tourism: there are endless opportunities for this approach to benefit typically non-gaming spaces. The overlaying of real-world services onto ‘live’ maps is a benefit simply when it comes to finding them. But there are a number of possible augmented-reality innovations that could, collectively, add a whole new meaning to what we sometimes call ‘gamification’.
That term has traditionally been used to refer to mechanics adopted from the world of games - such as rewards, competition and so on, being applied to non-game environments. To some extent it is as old as the hills: consider the sales leaderboard for example. But digital and mobile has seen some successful (and some less successful) attempts to bring the concept further into the mainstream.
The Pokemon GO combination of Augmented Reality, GPS capabilities, and 90s-kid nostalgia is something different. But nevertheless, it feels like a new aspect of gamification that is most definitely worth exploring. Consider the following possible ways to increase the engagement and the sheer fun of interaction:
An interactive tour through a popular tourist site or location, complete with hidden items to find and collect - which in turn unlock additional content.
Bricks-and-mortar retailers providing interactive ‘easter eggs’ within real-world locations, found and interacted with via the mobile device.
Media outlets providing location-based event and news updates, accessed via interactive map and (of course) including hidden content.
And these examples are very much the tip of the iceberg - adjacent to the Pokemon GO experience but certainly only the beginning. Gamification, in general, is a reminder that people enjoy a challenge. So whilst UX design quite rightly focuses on the creation of simple and intuitive experiences on mobile, those experiences themselves can and almost certainly should demand active participation from the user.
Interesting times ahead - just make sure to look up!
Tom Farrell is the senior VP of Marketing at Swrve, working with leading mobile businesses to optimize retention and revenue delivered via the mobile app.