Bringing Us Together One (Dis-)Connected Screen at a Time: Pokémon Go

July 28, 2016 | Jen Cyr

Jen Cyr

Because Citizen is working in the mixed reality space with Microsoft’s HoloLens as an agency partner, we’re very curious about the development and engagement of Pokémon Go.

As fellow product developers, it’s our duty to critically examine the market.

Full disclosure: I’m a gamer of many stripes, but Pokémon Go (PMG) is simply not one of them. If you are similarly out of the loop, PMG is an AR-powered-app that’s taking over smartphones all over the country. To learn more about this phenomena, I turned to my friends and fellow Citizens to help me understand the allure and discuss the broader mixed reality implications.

In our increasingly connected world, we’re using technology to do tons of cool stuff—program the perfect room temperature (and turn it on before we ever get home), FaceTime with family across the globe, measure our heart rates and predict calorie burn after a grueling 10k. But even after all of these innovations, are we getting any closer as humans? As a community?

Enter: Pokémon Go.

There have been all manner of editorials written about the hilarious (and sometimes unfortunate) hijinks that have erupted as a result of gamers becoming hyper-immersed in the PMG world: it is the Gibson-esque landscape we were promised with an innocent and nostalgic draw. It’s all promising and surprising, but what does it mean for the future of augmented and mixed reality applications?

Built on the Bones of Ingress: A UX Kerfuffle

It’s impossible to talk about PMG without talking about Niantic’s lesser known, but still important game, Ingress. As a Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) game, Ingress was unique in that it used geo-targeting to pit teams against one another in their hometowns. Going outside and capturing coveted places for your team sounds oddly familiar when you take a look at the basis of PMG—which is basically going places, capturing fictitious monsters, and pitting them against one another in a gym captured by a rival team.

While building a new application on the technology of an existing application seems like a great time-saving idea, was this necessarily the best move Niantic could’ve made? Maybe not.

The density of “Pokéstops” in more urban, populated areas is pretty high. It goes down considerably once you move out of the city and into the suburbs. No doubt this is due to Ingress players not living in those rural locations and thus not having the mapping to supply Pokéstops for PMG.

When rural players find themselves unable to participate in this experience that the rest of their bigger-city brethren can, it creates not just a fresh supply of FOMO for these rural players but highlights a big, flashing red UX flag. If you create a universally popular and engaging experience, but you alienate the population in lower-density areas, you’re creating an opportunity for a new player in the AR space to swoop in and solve this problem—and snatch up those users like so many Pokémon.

Citizen Gregor + friends capturing Pokémons near NW 19th and Vaughn | Citizen, Inc. | Portland, Oregon | Mixed Reality | Augmented Reality

Citizen Gregor + friends capturing Pokémons near NW 19th and Vaughn.

The Future of AR

Nearly everyone I talked to was less excited about the AR aspect of PMG and more excited about actually catching Pokémon. My fellow Citizens (and every friend I talked to that played) turned AR off immediately.

Friend of Citizen, James, said, “It’s more location-based superimposing. HoloLens is more AR when you can fully define the space around the object.” Citizens Gregor and Ryan echo the idea that “AR feels more like an afterthought.”

While PMG doesn’t seem to quite engage users in AR the way Niantic thought it would, trainers are still coming out in droves to hunt for their evasive monsters. What could potentially up the AR ante is introducing a new kind of platform within PMG—something like the aforementioned Microsoft’s HoloLens would create an immersive, connected experience that seamlessly delivers fully mapped, capturable monsters.

Together, Separately

In Portland, you can’t really go anywhere without seeing packs of trainers glued to their screens hunting for Pokémon. While the geo-location feature of PMG has the positive side effect of getting players out of their homes and into the world to explore, I’ve observed that nearly none of these groups has sought to communicate with each other—the same persists among solo players, too.

A knowing nod, a sigh of frustration at catching yet another Doduo—that’s about the most you can expect.

As communities grow and change due to technology’s influence, technologists and designers have an opportunity to build experiences that cross the silence stream created by the face-glued trainers of 2016.

Building a community experience that syncs with a mutual goal is the future of mixed reality games and applications.

And it’s up to us to make it happen.

Jen Cyr