When the Pokémon series made its grand international debut in the mid-1990s, only very few people would’ve predicted that the then revolutionary virtual monsters would still be going strong some twenty years later. Nevertheless, that’s exactly what we witnessed throughout this year’s summer, this time in the form of Pokémon Go — a mobile video game that took the world by storm. Unless you spent your summer living under an Onix, you’ll have noticed the complete and utter chaos that this brought about in the world. Hell, you might even have caught a few Pokémon yourself! Marketeers were all too quick to spot the forthcoming hype, and this is what ultimately made companies decide to join in on the fun themselves. Which are these companies? How long-lasting was the effect? And most importantly: will it ever return? Find out in this Pokémon Go summer roundup.
A hype like never before
Who could’ve seen this crazy phenomenon coming? Not many people, that’s for sure. If anyone, then probably those who were already familiar with Ingress — Pokémon Go‘s ancestor video game, which also used data from Google Maps to create a so-called ‘augmented reality’. However, even the most fanatic Ingress players couldn’t have foreseen the incredible mayhem that would come from an innocent Pokémon game, that’s for sure. Chaos in public places, suspicious-looking situations in neighbourhoods, Pokémon Go road signs being stolen, traffic accidents… Hell, even Pokémon hamburgers! (And let’s be honest here: who doesn’t want a piece of that?) The hype was enormous. So big, in fact, that many companies started seeing moneymaking opportunities. Now, before we get to the piggybacking companies, let’s first talk about the actual developers of the game: Niantic, an American software development company based in San Fransisco, California.
Niantic was formed in 2010 by Keyhole, Inc. founder John Hanke as Niantic Labs (an internal startup within Google) before it was spun off of Google as an independent entity in October of 2015. During the spin-off, Niantic announced that Google, Nintendo, and The Pokémon Company would invest up to 30 million dollars in it to support the growth of the company and its products, while in February of 2016, Niantic announced that it had secured an additional 5 million dollars. While adding more support for the growth of the company, this investment enabled Niantic to bring in industry pioneers to its board — a strategic move that set up what would later prove to be their breakthrough work: Pokémon Go. In addition to topping app store charts in most regions, Pokémon Go became the most downloaded app in a first week ever. Just shy of a month post-launch, Pokémon Go had been downloaded more than 100 million times, with daily revenues exceeding 10 million dollars. Ka-ching!
Nintendo, being the developers of the first few Pokémon games, gave off a license to Niantic to develop Pokémon Go. It’s also a major shareholder of The Pokémon Company. However, it’s clearly not the developer of Pokémon Go, and so it was surprising to see that Nintendo’s shares doubled in value shortly after the release of the game. By the end of July, they had already dropped by nearly 20%, but this only happened after Nintendo had clarified that they weren’t involved in the game. This suggests that the public must’ve thought that Nintendo were the developers of Pokémon Go — a remarkable finding.
Great success or no-go?
The first outside company to jump on the Pokémon bandwagon was the McDonald’s chain in Japan. McDonald’s made clever use of the option to buy in-game locations on Pokémon Go‘s digital gameboard, striking a deal with Niantic for an unknown (but undoubtedly large) amount of money. The result: 400 McDonald’s locations in Japan became PokéGyms (where battles can be held), while the remaining 2,500 locations became PokéStops (where items can be bought). The nature of these locations was originally decided in the development stages of Ingress, with the most popular locations becoming PokéGyms, and the others becoming PokéStops. After this announcement, the share value of McDonald’s Japan rose to an all-time high, and McDonald’s later expanded on this idea by applying the same trick elsewhere in the world. As far as I’m aware, this is the first time in history that a company has ever paid money for a location in a video game, but it could well prove to be a new business model that we’ll be seeing more and more frequently in the future. After all, these hotspots attract people to specific locations, where they might decide to spend their money while they’re at it.
Media Markt employed a different (and much cheaper) tactic to attract more customers to its cause: it bought an in-game item called an ‘incense’, which lures Pokémon to a specific location for half an hour. In fact, it did this every thirty minutes, so you might as well say that there was an increased chance of finding Pokémon in the Media Markt for most of the summer. It also used its social media channels to inform its customers about the Pokémon that had already been signalled, a tactic that Burger King and Albert Heijn employed as well. In fact, the latter even launched a website showing a ‘Pokémappie’ in order to do this, although it never really seemed to be working. Other companies undertook various other initiatives: Bavaria organised a classic pub-crawl in Amsterdam, catching Pokémon on the go, while DierenPark Amersfoort let in customers for free, attracting 5,500 people as a result. It just goes to show that a new marketing campaign can come from just about anywhere! And oh, let’s not forget about telephone companies; if anyone profited from Pokémon Go, it’s them. (Funnily enough, even the national police invested in Pokémon Go; by buying these incenses, it aimed to attract wandering players to neighbourhoods that could do with some extra social control.)
Sadly, it wasn’t all sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows, though. As you would expect with any hype, there were some serious downsides to the whole phenomenon as well, the most notable of which were stampedes in various places all over the world. Central Park in New York was one of the most popular locations of all, but we had a Pokémon capital city of our own in seaside resort Kijkduin (nearby the Hague). I’m not sure how much fun it must’ve been to go to the beach there, but oh well…
More in store
Although Niantic has recently tried to keep some of the buzz alive with the release of Pokémon Go Plus (a watch-like device that’s supposed to enhance the experience and extend the hype a little bit), figures show that the game is already past its peak. However, that’s not to say that this is the end of augmented reality video games; in fact, this particular genre of video games might well be in its very infancy. The success of Pokémon Go will undoubtedly spark the imagination of other major developers, making way for big leaps of improvement in the years to come. As young kids, actually catching Pokémon ourselves seemed like a dream too good to be true, and yet that’s exactly what so many of us spent countless hours doing over the course of this year’s summer. Enjoy it while it lasts, because the next augmented reality video gaming sensation is probably already under way!