Augmenting reality and Nintendo’s Wallet
So far, 17 million have viewed Niantic, Inc’s trailer for February 2016’s Pokémon GO. The latest spin-off from Game Freak’s massively successful Pokémon series and one which uses augmented reality to bring the Poké-world to our own through Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android, geo-location and wearables from Nintendo. It’s a free-to-play, so one assumes, it’ll be downloaded by Poké-fans the world over, but whether the game will retain users for sustainable long term revenues via in-app purchases only time will tell.
I started my trainer career at twelve, with my Gameboy Color, Pokémon Blue and my 1st Pokémon Bulbasaur – since then I’ve had a pirated copy of Pokémon Diamond which taught me never to trust a market stall in the Canary Islands, followed by Gold, Emerald, Platinum and White by legitimate means. Frankly, I continue to love the series due to its simplicity and pick-up and play game-play making it perfect for travel and perhaps proving the series’ value as a mobile proposition.
Pokémon GO’s success will hinge on two factors, firstly how well the monetization works. This should be less of a worry with Nintendo incredibly protective of its IP and importantly reputation. The much maligned creators programme the company is indicative of this with the company incredibly wary of bad PR. Poorly enacted in-app purchase functionality and importantly pricing, can drive goodwill into the ground.
Pokémon has long been a cash cow for the Barrio of Mario and risking this would be foolish. In my opinion, likely the in-app purchases should be centred around increasing the likelihood of successfully capturing wild Pokémon rather than pay-walled content limiting trainers to catching anything better than a Pidgey or Rattata. Interestingly the aforementioned luck-based in-app model would move the game into gambling territory which would be disastrous for the title. Effectively implemented in-app purchases will be key to funding Pokémon GO but its my opinion that we can trust Nintendo to get this right.
The more pressing concern should be how does Pokémon GO manage data usage. One news story forewarned that Pokémon GO will force completionist users to travel around the globe to fill their Pokedex. Prospective Pokémon trainers should be more worried about how the application requires mobile data. Understanding the brief, the combination of geo-location and augmented reality, outside of WiFi connectivity, is a recipe for high bandwidth. Assuming that assets connected to Pokémon not installed on user devices are to be hosted and streamed via video to users the result is high data usage for prospective trainers.
To mitigate this risk, assets could be stored on end user devices, but the 600+ Pokemon and associated animation assets would tax the storage capacities of top end devices let alone the budget options circulated around the bulk of smart phone users. This analysis would mean that either the game is much scaled down compared to the marketing, more so than usual, or the title has been designed for high end devices and tech-savvy users, which is not outside the realm of possibility given the Google Venture Capital history of Niantic.
In fairness, Pokémon GO’s trailer only shows generation 1, but still the 151 assets will tax mobile device storage or Mobile Network Operator (MNO) infrastructure, one would assume that very popular group events will choke localised signal provision for MNOs. Will I download Pokémon GO? As with everything, this is a case of mind and heart. For me, many other Poké-fans and a Google April Fools this title is the dream, relying on the incessant collectability of the creatures and the communicable, if commercial, aspects of the title.
However, I am skeptical, and not only because I’d worry that I’d be the only 25+ white male in Times Square in a frantic sea of children in a desperate time-based battle to catch Mew Two. The potentially bandwidth taxing nature of the application means that for me, risks giving an AmuletCoin to my own MNO. It had been raised that Pokémon have been relatively absent for the video game peripheral market eg. only few amiibos. Instead it looks like Pokémon is going towards, perhaps without me, a more innovative and lucrative technology – mobile.
Finally got an opportunity to draw my current Pokémon team!
Please note that featured image is a modified version of a picture of the Earth provided under public domain by the NASA and the NSSDCA.