POKÉMON GO - Chasing Imaginary Friends

How to Turn the Whole World Into a Make Believe Safari

This month, a hell of a lot of grown men and women started searching streets, offices, bathrooms and even hospitals for imaginary little animals they to collect and use to fight other imaginary animals which have been collected by other grown men and women. Stories, both true and untrue, about adults ruining their careers and causing major accidents are definitely adding to the game's notoriety. So what in the name of Peter Pan Syndrome is going on?

Pokémon Go launched across the USA and an estimated 7.5 million people in the USA got on board, with side-loaded APKs for the rest of the world (who will see an official release soon). Suddenly, office workers, nurses, teachers, and even that surly guy who runs the bar down the street are going on random adventures to places you'd never expect, like churches and mosques, to collect imaginary animals.

The thing that makes this augmented reality experience so unique isn't the graphic quality, or the story, or the fact that so many people adopted it so quickly. After all, the game's been in the works for a long time, and was even referenced in a Google hiring video on April Fools Day in 2014.

In the past two days, our office has been contacted by various news outlets desperate to pick up a story - any story - around the success of this game. We've heard questions like 'will geo-caching become more popular now?' (it won't) and 'how hard is it to make a popular mobile app?' (very, very hard).

The success of Pokémon Go can be explained very simply - this is what happens when you figure out how to deliver the experience that was in the imaginations of your target market when they were kids. Without the limit of an allowance and the good sense of their parents, these people are an ideal group of happy, carefree consumers, if you give them what they want. Once that happens, the product or experience you're selling becomes better and better as more and more people join in.

As a company that specializes in large-scale audience engagement, we take away a pretty important lesson from Pokémon Go. It's not about stellar graphics or amazing realism or even super tight gameplay. When it comes to drawing millions of people into a world you've created, you have to create the right world. And this is where so many other augmented reality developers have failed.

While some are calling the success of Pokémon Go a tragedy, it does force the game developer world to appreciate the power of brands, which should help inspire some very cool alternate reality games in the future. After all, there are literally thousands of amazing, familiar worlds, from Narnia to Neverland, that are begging to be constituted alongside the world we live in.

The only question is, which will be the next one to crash a wedding and show up in a war zone?