Gotta catch them all? So do millions of other people across the world. According to a USA Today article, people are spending more time on Pokémon Go than other popular mobile apps like WhatsApp, Instagram, and Snapchat. The average time per day spent on the new augmented reality app is reportedly to be 43 minutes, compared to 30 minutes for WhatsApp, 25 minutes for Instagram, and 23 minutes for Snapchat.
But why is the game so popular? Part of the appeal is that it’s free to download and available on both iOS and Android platforms. Millennials who grew up in the ‘90s, amidst the boom of mobile and personalized technology, are seeing a childhood gaming culture revitalized by their smart phones. Pokémon Go uses a phone’s geolocation and clock to direct users to Pokémon characters, which appear on a user’s screen, and can then be caught and collected. Pokemon Go is the first mobile game to fully unlock the potential of augmented reality - allowing users to virtually interact with the Pokémon and the world around them. By forcing players to move around the real map, the app introduces a fun, interactive element to the gameplay - making players feel like they are actively participating in an adventure.
At YI Advisors, we are brainstorming ways to harness some of the lessons from Pokemon Go for social good. We already know Millennials are crazy about mobile, and that their approach to solving daily problems often starts with a search on their smart phone. So what if we go one step further and use the power of augmented reality to help Millennials address real world problems? Augmented reality has been around for years but is just starting to breakthrough. For example, IKEA has an app that allows you to visualize how their furniture would look in your room before finalizing a purchase. Want to get fit and run from zombies? Zombies, Run! puts zombies in your environment and you have to escape them by running at top speed.
The beauty of augmented reality is how effectively and quickly information is given to people while they interact with the world around them. From a social good perspective, the possibilities are endless. Imagine going grocery shopping, wandering through the aisles, and knowing what foods were locally grown based on a visual that pops up on your phone screen. Or, imagine if during flu season, free flu shots in a given city were overlaid on a Google map, so that as you walk through the city you can see a chance to get a flu shot pop up on your phone. The quick source of information and use of a mobile platform would translate well to Millennials who are on-the-go AND on their phones.
For now, Pokémon Go is making its own impact in the social sphere. Presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are using the app to garner support from players. The Hillary campaign is setting up stations at Pokestops, real-life landmarks that users visit, in order to get traction with Millennials and register voters. As long as the game is popular, nonprofits, small businesses, and policymakers can attract interested parties by integrating aspects of the game into their communications and marketing strategies. But once the hype dies down, augmented reality technology can still be used to engage Millennials in politics and social good by meeting them where they are and making it quick and easy for them to find opportunities to engage in social good.