July 22

Pokemon Go explained (more or less)

Pokemon GifOn July 6, 2016, an app maker called Niantic launched a mobile game called Pokemon Go. Within 48 hours, it was on more phones than the dating (hookup) app Tinder. More people were using it than use Twitter. People were staying on it longer every day than they checked Facebook. We’re just over 2 weeks after the launch, and watching this page of real-time stats of downloads and usage will floor you.

Pokemon Go has taken over the world.

First let me admit that I am not a Pokemon expert! I am not a gamer, and although I’ve spent hours playing Pokemon and working up to a respectable Level 15, I’m really just doing it for you guys to be able to tell you what it’s like. Yeah, that’s the story I’m going with… all for you. Now for what I know….

What Is Pokemon Go?

Pokemon Go is a mobile game that lets users (known as Pokemon Trainers) collect Pokemon characters and perhaps compete with other players for points, prestige and bragging rights. The name is a portmanteau of “pocket monsters,” which sounds kind of pervy until you consider the game’s origins. (Sidenote: Here’s an interesting history of the name.) Pokemon was a phenomenon in the late 1990s, and millions of Gen Y-ers spent their teen years capturing, trading and fighting Pokemon.

Two key Pokemon Go twists:

  • The Pokemon characters that you capture and battle appear to float before you in real life, only viewable through your mobile screen. You may find yourself throwing a Poke Ball at a Pidgie perched on top of your computer monitor, or a Zubat flapping its wings over your child’s breakfast cereal.
  • The Pokemon characters, Pokestops (for gathering supplies) and Gyms (where you train and fight your Pokemon) are located in real places, meaning gamers have to leave their basements and venture out to stare at their phones in front of historical landmarks, park fountains and, soon, McDonald’s Restaurants (sponsorship is on its way).

How Do You Play Pokemon Go?

After you download the app and create a logon (here’s an update on a privacy concern), you personalize your character. Then you pretty much just start walking around. When a character comes into view, tap on it for the opportunity to lob Poke Balls at his head. You catch one; you move on; you seek more. You can use a couple of tricks to bring more Pokemon to you, or you can go to places that they hang out. I’m seriously not an expert, so I will stop here and point you to this great guide to get you started.

One interesting thing about playing the game is that the app maker doesn’t really help you along. Niantic gives out basic instructions, but for the most part, the community of players release tips and tricks after players discover surprises by trial and error.  So when you’re walking slowly in a park staring at your phone and you see someone else walking slowly and staring at his phone, you can easily find yourself comparing notes, exchanging tips and asking about levels. The first day I played, I was walking down my street (staring at my phone). Three separate people yelled out, “Hey, are you playing Pokemon Go?” Of course I was. Of course they were. That’s what people are doing outside right now.

Why Is Pokemon Go So Insanely Popular?

All those Poke-playing Gen Y-ers are now young adults with jobs, smartphones and free time. They embraced the game with nostalgic frenzy, and even though the original obsession with Pokemon peaked about a decade ago, kids (like my nephews) still play the games. So you have multiple generations of tech-savvy people who were primed to fall in love.

Another factor that may play into the success is the geolocation features that get people moving and interacting and exploring. Aren’t we all tired of sitting by ourselves waiting for great Facebook updates from our friends? Or sending Snapchat shots with witty captions that last just a few seconds? When I travel, I usually hibernate in my room and work on my computer. But when I checked into a hotel on the Riverwalk in San Antonio the other day and I saw the vast landscape of Pokestops all around me, I couldn’t wait to get outside and start exploring. Me. Sit-on-my-ass-all-night me.

Is Pokemon the First Augmented Reality Game?

Not even close, my friends. I’ve been shooting Zombies over people’s shoulders in airports for years with Zombies Everywhere!. You can use virtual light sabers to fight Darth Vader in the Star Wars app. Slimer floated in front of you in the Ghostbuster’s game in 2012 (the app seems to be gone now). And there are so many more examples of augmented reality that no one has ever heard of before.

But what Pokemon Go has done for the first time is to introduce millions and millions of people to the concept of augmented reality. You need to click here to find out why it might matter to you and your business in the coming year.

Is Pokemon Go Safe to Play?

That’s a really good question. When I talk to people who haven’t tried the game, they inevitably mention that guy who drove into a tree, the two players who fell off a cliff, the people who found dead bodies and the armed robbers who lured victims. We’ve just begun to hear the crazy stories of the ridiculous trouble we can get ourselves into when we wander around the world staring at our phones instead of using common sense and paying attention to where we are. When I was hunting in San Antonio, I was totally obsessed, and I had to stop and put my phone down to get out of an isolated alley in a construction zone. It’s definitely engaging, and you can easily walk into a hole or off the sidewalk or into a water fountain if you’re not careful.

Another security concern that I’ve heard centers around privacy. Pokemon lets you use your Google account to sign up, and as I mentioned earlier, Niantic originally asked for full access to your Google account on iOS devices when you set up your trainer. They fixed it, but it really pissed people off, including Senator Al Franken. Once that controversy died down (somewhat), other elected officials wrote a letter to the Pokemon peeps demanding info about data usage because Pokemon both drains your battery and your data bank. I’ve even heard a theory that Pokemon’s collection of geotagged data and players’ movements could be used by terrorists.

I really don’t know what to say about the privacy and safety issues, but they’re worth keeping an eye on. I’ll be sure to pass along updates as I discover them.Click here for advice for parents of Pokemon fiends, and here to stay safe yourself. And here are my best four pieces of advice for playing Pokemon Go….

  1. Pay attention
  2. Pay attention
  3. Pay attention
  4. (and bring a backup battery)

Bonus Question: Isn’t Pokemon Supposed to Have One of Those Little Accent Thingys?

Ummm. Yeah. I was hoping you wouldn’t notice that I didn’t put them in. I hate having to find the special characters on my keyboard, but I’ll do it once: Pokémon Go




just plain fun, privacy, security, social media

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