Augmented reality goes mainstream with Pokémon GO

Today, mobile gaming phenomenon, Pokémon GO launches in the UK. How much you care about this will depend on your age – the game so far seems to be used by children enjoying the novelty and adults who were into Pokémon the first time round, reliving their youth (Pokémon cards were a playground staple in my day) – but you should care, because what started out as a simple Google Maps April Fool’s joke has now been widely credited as the first instance of effective mainstream augmented reality (massively outstripping Google’s 2012 attempt at AR gaming, Ingress).

Pokémon GO is a new game launched by Nintendo and Niantic. Basically, the game uses a player’s mobile GPS to show a virtual version of their real-world location on screen, but populated with Pokémon characters. Players are encouraged to move around in real life to capture different characters in different places at different times, and can also visit Pokestops to collect items and Pokegyms to ‘battle’ with other players’ Pokémon.

Pokémon GO has been downloaded more times in a week than Tinder has in its four years of existence. It is being used more in a day than WhatsApp, Instagram and Snapchat, and looks set to overtake Twitter.

It’s easy to see why the game is so popular – it taps into the innate human desire to accumulate things and uses an already established well-liked brand to do so. Plus, it gets people (and gamers of all people) outside and moving about – who needs a Fitbit?

Obviously, this game is begging to be monetised, and it looks like Niantic will do so by offering sponsored Pokestops to encourage footfall in certain shops (at the moment, Pokestops are generated randomly, leading to some inappropriate stops at the Holocaust Museum and Ground Zero).

So next time you walk into someone who isn’t looking where they’re going because they are glued to their phone, give them a break. They are playing the most addictive game this year.