Could Pokémon craze capture a bonus for businesses?

PUBLISHED: 11:35 27 July 2016 | UPDATED: 11:35 27 July 2016

People playing Pokemon Go on St George's Street, Norwich.

People playing Pokemon Go on St George's Street, Norwich. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2016

The breakthrough of Pokémon Go marks the coming-of-age of augmented reality you can carry in your pocket. But what opportunities does it offer for business - and how can they capitalise?

What is Pokemon Go?

The Pokémon franchise originated in 1995 in Japan with two games for the portable GameBoy console.

Pokémon, which is short for Pocket Monsters, are wild creatures which are captured by Pokémon Trainers who then make them against each other for sport.

The franchise has spawned numerous films, games and merchandise with the mobile game Pokémon Go the latest of these.

The app, which can be played on iPhones and Androids, is an augmented reality game which uses GPS and a phone’s camera to locate the player in the real world. Players can only reach new locations by moving there themselves and the game places Pokémon into areas which can then be caught.

Pokémon can be trained up to be stronger and to battle at gyms.

A number of in-game items exist including some which can be bought for real money. These include items such as lures which are used as bait to attract Pokémon to an area.

It’s the mobile app that has seemingly come from nowhere to take over the summer.

Pokémon Go has already been downloaded more than 40m times, with crowds of players roaming the streets in search of the game’s imaginary creatures becoming a familiar sight to many.

But with such an extensive and enthusiastic group of users, what opportunities do gaming networks such as Pokémon Go present for businesses to reach new audiences?

And with so many players using Pokémon Go, travelling to places they might not have otherwise, how can businesses capitalise?

Where could the technology lead?

While 40m downloads is impressive it is yet to be seen if the technology can have a positive impact for businesses and whether players will put their phones down.

Tech specialist and founder of co-working hub Whitespace Neil Garner said it showed the capabilities of the technology we carry in our pockets.

He said: “One of my issues with the game is that people are glued to their phones. Yes, they might be going out to different places but they are not necessarily doing things.”

Mr Garner said his new business Thyngs was attempting to convert people from their phones to taking part in real world activities.

“Thyngs is all about turning hard objects into things you can interact with using your phone,” he said.

“Looking at what you hold in your hand now, you have so much technology.

“You have camera technology so you can look at the world around you, or scan QR codes; you’ve got Bluetooth so you can push messages to people and you have now got GPS so you can see what is happening near you.”

The location technology could be used to allow people to find out about events or offers just by holding their camera over a venue or business.

Mr Garner previously developed the app Loka with Norwich tech company Proxama. It helps connect people with businesses which are in their location by sending messages to their phone.

Since its release, Nintendo has seen its share price soar by 60%, despite announcing its profits were not likely to be affected by sales.

The game uses augmented reality technology and GPS alongside a smartphone camera to track a player’s position in the app, as they hunt the Pokémon – pocket monsters – which give the game its name.

Real-life landmarks feature in the game as PokéStops – places to collect in-game items. Bait can be placed on these points to attract the virtual creatures, which in turn attracts players.

And for businesses reliant on footfall, that means more potential customers visiting the area, and staying for longer.

Tourism attractions have been among the first to catch on, keen to bring more visitors in, and repeat the success of participative trails such as Norwich’s GoGoDragons or Ipswich’s Pigs GoneWild.

In Lowestoft, the town’s Business Improvement District (BID) has bought “lures” – the bait which attracts the virtual monsters – to encourage families to visit for the launch of Discover Lowestoft’s turtle trail.

Darren Newman of Lowestoft BID said: “We want people to come in to the town and spend time in the town centre and this seemed to be a different way to do that.”

He said it was too early for figures but anecdotal evidence suggested an increase in footfall from Pokémon players during the summer holidays.

“It is something that a family can do together or the children can do it while the parents go shopping. You hope that they will use at least one or two services while they are there,” he said.

Banham Zoo will be holding a Pokémon Go “lure day” on Saturday to encourage visitors to come along and play while seeing some of the real animals, and 900-year-old Norwich Castle has also found itself becoming a popular hunting-ground.

But it is not just tourist businesses looking to latch on to the craze. Car-pooling service Liftshare used lures in Pokémon Go to attract people simply to find out more about the company.

Lex Barber, marketing manager at Norwich Liftshare, said: “There were people outside playing Pokémon and they were standing and chatting. We are a sharing economy so anything we can do to get people to share or interact a bit is really good for us.”

Carole Osborne, managing director of advertising agency Osbornenash, said businesses could make the game work for them.

“As well as driving an increase in footfall, it presents a fantastic opportunity to interact more meaningfully with customers and demonstrate a personable and fun side – a far more valuable tool for ensuring new customers become repeat customers once the current craze dies down,” she said.

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