Pokémon Go was released on July 6th of this year. By July 20th, it had reached more than 30 million users worldwide and surpassed the number of US active users on Twitter. Ever since Niantic released the app, surreal scenes have been witnessed in cities all over the world: crowds and crowds of people leaning on their smartphones, wandering around the streets and public parks to catch creatures invisible to the naked eye.
However Pokémon Go is neither the first nor the only augmented reality game on the market. So what makes it so special?
Well, the first and foremost reason is that all of us 90’s kids were hooked on Nintendo Pokémon games and deep inside, we all kept that obsession. Who hasn’t dreamt of having real life Pokémon friends living with us? One of my childhood fantasies was having a pet Pikachu, and I’m sure I’m not the only one! So that brings us to the second reason: augmented reality has brought us closer than ever to that feeling.
And although it’s extremely satisfying to catch virtual Pokémon with a virtual Poké Ball, the applications of AR are countless. In 2014, L’Oréal Paris developed a smartphone app called Makeup Genius that allows a user to try make-up looks and products using the device’s front camera. Fashion, tourism, military, education and astronomy are just a few of all the fields that have already been disrupted by augmented reality.
But let’s get back to game playing. Pokémon Go is quite late to the party because other augmented reality games exist since the early 2010’s. Ingress, for example, is another game that Niantic released in 2013 whose game mechanics were very similar to Pokémon Go. And the list is long: Book of Spells, Zombies, Run!, Walking with Dinosaurs are just a few other examples that were around way before 2016.
The incredible success of the game possibly comes from the fact that the app is free of charge and we can enjoy the franchise on our mobile devices instead of having to buy a Nintendo 3DS. It may also come from the simplicity of the game, making it stand out from the previous AR games, whose interfaces were too “nerdy” to attract the masses. And finally, let’s be honest with ourselves. It’s just that we’ve got. To catch. Them. All.