Can businesses catch the success of Pokémon Go?  

If you’ve spent the past couple of weeks backpacking around Patagonia or ice diving in the South Pole you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve returned to some kind of zombie apocalypse as you dodge single-minded hordes staring wild-eyed into their phones and moving as a herd to specific locations.

Rest assured though that it is not human entrails they seek but rather tiny, little Japanese anime monsters, suspended in augmented reality, called Pokémon.

To describe the Pokémon Go phenomenon as a ‘craze’ would be something of an understatement. Within two weeks of the game being released on app stores it overtook dating app giant Tinder in number of downloads and was rivalling Twitter in daily usage with over 3% of android users in the US playing the game at any one time. The game is clearly a rip-roaring success for the triumvirate behind it; Nintendo, The Pokémon Company and Niantic Labs but an intriguing spinoff is how businesses, completely unrelated to the aforementioned, could and indeed are making the Squirtles, the Darkrais and the Ho-ohs work for them.

Amongst the first of these businesses to cash in are those who have had a cursory knowledge of the game’s format and particularly the existence of ‘Pokéstops’ and ‘Lures’. Pokéstops are in-game locations tied to real world landmarks, such as museums, businesses, statues, etc. Their purpose is to give users items to catch Pokémon and take care of them and Lures are purchasable in-game content that can be used at a Pokéstop to attract Pokémon. This means that if users go to a spot where a Lure has been used, they don’t have to walk around looking for Pokémon, but instead wait for the little critters to come to them. The business opportunity is obvious, if you are, say a restaurant and you advertise that there is a rare Pokémon within your premises the players coming in to catch it might just decide they’re hungry and need a drink.

From the player’s point of view there is one particular implication of Pikachu hunting beyond the game resulting in walking into people in the street and going AWOL on lunch breaks and that’s how the data-guzzling game bloats monthly bills. Enter T-Mobile.

Having kept a close eye on the snow-balling of Pokémon Go they recently announced that customers who downloaded their T-Mobile Tuesdays app could dodge the data plan-busting effects of the game by gaining access to unlimited data as well as discounts on accessories such as portable power packs to stretch playing time. With Pokémon Go heralding the undisputed advent and frenetic popularity of mobile data-supported augmented reality, data providers elsewhere may look towards offering similar incentives in order to catch not Crobats or Croagunks but customers.

T-Mobile and handful of savvy local business owners, not to mention the game developers themselves may have jumped the starting pistol first but this really is just the beginning. Pokémon Go may be a game for teens and millennials, but it is irrevocably altering societal expectations of what information is presented and how it is accessed.

In time, visitors to museums and galleries will demand to know everything about the exhibit’s installations far beyond what’s posted on the walls and within glass boxes. In city-centre boutiques, shoppers will expect to raise their smart phones and obtain additional information on how exactly a wooden carving was manufactured or the design process for a pair of limited edition trainers. Even queueing outside fitting rooms could be replaced by AR fitting trials. The point is; having to type a search term into a browser is starting to feel a little yesteryear and as this shift in public expectation continues the development of AR platforms is what could keep businesses ahead of the curve. And who’d have thought it’d all be down to a collection of tiny, multi-coloured, bouncing cartoon Japanese monsters.