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Dan Iaboni
Dan Iaboni

Ph.D - Chief Experience Officer

Pokémon Go: Fun but Not Augmented Reality

If you have read any of the news in the last couple days or are a millennial, then you’ve probably heard by now about the release of the Pokémon Go game for Android and iOS.  In the short period of time that it has been released people have been robbed http://bit.ly/29APj3k, found dead bodies http://bit.ly/29stDJ7 or gotten into accidents http://bit.ly/29NNRKf.

I was not much of a fan of the game growing up, but I’ll try not to let that influence my thoughts on the game.  In particular I want address how the game has positioned itself as an augmented reality (AR) game. But first, I need to give a brief overview for the audience that may not be familiar with Pokémon.

Pokémon history

Pokémon is a franchise, started in 1995 for the Nintendo Game Boy system that focuses on fictional creatures called Pokémon.  Game players are called trainers and are tasked with collecting all the Pokémon, and then training them to fight against other players.  Players capture Pokémon by throwing a spherical device, called a Poké Ball, and by fighting other Pokémon the payer gains experience they can use to train their Pokémon.  To say that the franchise is huge is to vastly underestimate the value and impact on the culture for a large segment of millennials.

Pokémon reinvented for the digital age

Pokémon Go is the latest incarnation of the franchise, and was created by Niantic, that has previously created a game called Ingress where players fight for control of territory in the real world by claiming virtual landmarks.

Players are required to venture into the real world to explore for wild Pokémon, and add them to their collection. Pokémon appearances are tied to a physical location, which means a Pokémon can appear in locations that are humorous and locations that are inappropriate http://bit.ly/29rN9jm or dangerous http://bit.ly/29IYpIE.

Of course there are opportunities for monetization by the developers. Users can buy special Poké Balls or lures to increase likelihood of a rare Pokémon appearing.  Businesses are already using these features to create hotspots and draw in large crowds.

So, what do I think about Pokémon Go? Well… I have nothing against the game or business model, I object to the claim that the game is augmented reality.

What should be considered Augmented Reality?

In previous articles on the topic I outlined three criteria for defining something as augmented reality.

First the virtual object has to be seamlessly integrated into the physical world. While the virtual Pokémon can appear in the camera video stream, I would argue that the virtual object is not really integrated into the real world.  You can actually turn off the AR camera to save battery and just play the game without the physical world.

Second, interactions with the virtual object should have a real time reaction. In Pokémon Go all the interactions are through the touchscreen, and no real world action has any effect on the virtual object.  To capture the Pokémon you swipe upwards to toss a Poké Ball in the hopes of success. A much better experience would have the user throwing a physical net or real Poké Ball which can be tracked, and having the virtual Pokémon dodging or reacting to the attempts to capture.

Finally, in AR, the virtual object must be aligned with a real world.  So, if you change your position relative to the virtual object, your perspective of that virtual object should change as well.  If you find a Pokémon, you can’t walk around it to attack from the back, because your position relative to the location of the virtual object doesn’t matter.

So, Pokémon Go basically fails to meet any of the three criteria that would qualify it to be an AR experience. A better label is a geospatial game, since gameplay relies on the player’s position in the world.

So who benefits from the success of Pokémon Go?  Well the game developers and Nintendo are going to do very well, and so are all the telecom provides that will see increases in mobile data usage. The players of course are seeing their childhood dreams coming to life, even though it may not be perfect.

The dangers of misrepresenting Augmented Reality

On the downside I worry that Pokémon Go is misrepresenting what consists of an AR experience. AR has a lot potential in training, emergency and military operations, urban planning and resource exploration. But presenting AR as something that is primarily for entertainment hinders the perception of the technology as a serious tool for addressing real problems.

Dan Iaboni
Dan Iaboni

Ph.D - Chief Experience Officer

Dan firmly believes that technology must be created with the user in mind. Never shy to critique a bad design, Dan uses the Akendi blog to shine a spotlight on usability mistakes – and their solutions. Leveraging his background in engineering, computer science, psychology, and anthropology, Dan offers a unique perspective on the latest UX trends and techniques.

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Yes! Thank you for reading my mind. Pokemon GO is *not* augmented reality. How could they ever spread this lie? Ingress is the one and only augmented reality game.

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