Pokémon GO: Three Lessons for Tourism Marketers

ascedia pokemon go

On my way into Ascedia a few days ago, I pulled up Pokémon GO, the new app from The Pokémon Company in collaboration with Niantic, developers of the augmented reality game Ingress. The game has players wandering around the real world in search of Pokémon, the cartoon creatures that became a craze at the turn of the millennium thanks to a successful series of Game Boy games. One of the game’s most interesting aspects is the designation of certain structures, particularly pieces of art and buildings of note like libraries and churches, as places of in-game significance. This is what has led to recent stories of police stations gently warning people to keep their gameplay outside and players being lured into robberies. However, it also led me to a surprise—the building next door to our office was designated as one of these significant places. The game shows me a photo of a plaque that reads “Walker’s Point Building of Architectural Interest.” Examining the building, I spot the plaque. I had never looked at it so closely before.

From Ascedia’s vantage point on the edge of Walker’s Point, the in-game map shows an array of these special places: a sculpture in Catalano Square, The Milwaukee Ale House, the Harley-Davidson Museum, and many more. Not only does the game reward you for getting near these places, players can put “lures” on them to attract more Pokémon to that area—which often has the effect of attracting more people looking for Pokémon, too. There are businesses near these spots that are beginning to use these things to their advantage by putting down these virtual lures themselves. The coffee shop across the street from Ascedia is also one of these stops and in the middle of the day it frequently has a “lure” on it—for Ascedians wanting to get some gaming in on their lunch break, what better place to stop? And for the coffee shop, what good fortune!

There are a lot of factors that attract people to Pokémon GO: it is a nostalgia trip for people who participated in the early days of the Pokémon franchise; it’s a prime example of the increasingly popular concept of augmented reality games (which combine the real with the virtual, as Pokémon GO does when it uses smartphone camera to make Pokémon appear to be in the room with the player); and it’s a casual game people can play with their friends. Regardless of why people pick it up in the first place, some of the most intriguing things about it are its side effects and its ability to defy some of the biggest criticisms of video games: it’s getting players out into their communities, visiting local landmarks and businesses and socializing with other people face-to-face.

Ascedia’s work with the tourism and hospitality industry means we are no strangers to using the power of digital to get people out exploring. Pokémon GO gives us some prime examples of ways to encourage this:

  • Gamification. Games are fun! Scoring points, competing with others—some of the same elements that actual games like Pokémon GO use to keep people engaged and entertained can be used outside of games as well.
  • Memorializing and sharing. Pokémon GO does not currently give users a particular direct way to share information about their adventures with others, but it gives them content worth sharing. One of its most popular features makes it easy for users to take photos of the Pokémon they spot. These photos are all over social media, showing off the cool places people are visiting while playing the game.
  • Facilitating discovery. Just as I was surprised to learn about the architectural significance of the building next door, there are lots of interesting places right in my own backyard that I might not think to explore without being told there was something interesting to find there. By highlighting places of interest near the user on a map, Pokémon GO invites users to be curious.

Will people still be talking about Pokémon GO with such fervor this time next year, let alone this time next month? Maybe not (remember Neko Atsume?), but its success means that there is a real interest in games of this nature. There is no certain formula for success in creating whatever the next Pokémon GO will be, but the building blocks that are making Pokémon GO such a phenomenon are already understood and available to us even outside of the world of gaming apps. 

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