Welcome to episode 165 of The Digital Life, a show about our insights into the future of design and technology. I’m your host Jon Follett and with me is founder and co-host Dirk Knemeyer.
Oh John, John, ready to go John.
All right, it’s good to hear. For our podcast this week we’re going to talk about augmented reality and the craze that is seizing the nation and the globe really, which is Pokemon Go of course.
You missed my little joke there, didn’t you John?
Yes, I did. You’re too quick for me today.
No that wasn’t my point. Anyway, keep going, keep going.
For our listeners who are unfamiliar with this, which is really the first mega hit of what is soon to be the augmented reality game industry, Pokemon Go is the digital instantiation of what you may have seen young children playing with the Pokemon cards, there’s also a cartoon show. It’s basically these little creatures that you can, quote, capture and train and evolve. If you’re using the cards you can trade the cards and as you’re training you can fight other trainers, things like that. The cartoon of course has been popular for a long time and the trading cards as well.
What’s interesting, obviously the cartoon these characters, creatures come alive and the characters in the cartoon go out and capture the actual creatures. But now with your mobile phone plus this free application, you can now go out around your house, around your place of business, when you’re walking, when you’re in public spaces, and you can too capture the virtual creatures that make up the Pokedex, which is the universe of Pokemon, the most famous being the Pikachu which is this yellow creature with a lightning like tail and pointy ears, very cute.
This is clearly aimed at the younger set, but it is also very popular with casual gamers because it’s easy to pick up, the game is free, you can I think pay money for upgrades and things like that.
It’s for the young and the young at heart.
That’s very good. I can see you’re a marketer at heart.
There’s this universe of the Pokemon which is overlayed onto your every day reality. When you go and capture a creature that say might be located in a playground or perhaps on the doorstep to your business, the software shows a little cartoon drawing on top of the camera view so you can see your stairs going up to your place of business and lo and behold there’s a Pikachu sitting there. I will throw the Poke Ball at it and it will capture the Pikachu and voila you now have a Pikachu to train.
There are also places called Poke Stops where you can get all kinds of other free stuff and tie into marketing of other companies. You can see how McDonald’s might be very interested in this, in fact I think they already have all the Poke players, Pokemon Players come and hang out at McDonald’s for a while. In fact lots of restaurants have been giving discounts if you’re a certain level of trainer, like if you’re a trainer level 5, which is fairly easy to get, you’ll get 10% off. There’s a news story where a pizza place is doubling their revenues because of all the Poke players show up. That’s what it is in a nutshell. I know way more about this than I should, but that’s because I have some youngsters who are into it.
By youngsters you mean you.
Yes. Yeah, of course. It was important that it be installed this weekend on my phone and that we play. What’s interesting about augmented reality is that, like I said it sort of brings the digital into your physical world, and at least on screen represents that digital fairly nicely. Here are some of the good things that I noticed this weekend as I was playing with my kids. Exercise, there are certain parameters where you’re hunting for Pokemon where you must be walking to get them to hatch or some such. Going to the park, going out, taking a walk, going to new places, that’s all incentivized behavior now because wherever we go there might a new rare Pokemon, so the kids really want to get there, legs moving and hey if you’re going to be having screen time, the additional exercise couldn’t hurt. I thought that was good.
The family play time could be oriented to that if you’ve got somewhat geeky dads, like myself, that’s easy. There’s also this sense of competition, right? Which I think can be healthy if it’s not taken to far, and the kids are fired up about this. Of course that can be also on the not so good side, where people get obsessed with it and want to play it all the time. Those are some of the pluses and minuses that I’ve seen. Now Dirk I know you’re not necessarily a player of this game, so what’s your take on the augmented reality, Pokemon Go craze?
It’s certainly interesting. We’ve had over the last couple of years less so augmented reality, more virtual reality that has been bubbling up as an important technology. Even though I think it’s still, shambolic is too strong and cynical but, mediocre let’s say more fairly, people who are smart and important see something in it. Which I think it’s overblown on one hand, but it’s also a portend of technology to come.
Augmented reality as a technology has been more or less a dud over the years. It’s existed, it’s had some applications, more commonly in a shopping context, but it hasn’t had its moment. It’s moment is now and I think its moment is bleeding into the VR craze as well. I think one is sort of feeding the other. But I want to go back, at the very beginning of your lengthy overview on the topic you referred to this as an industry, you said it’s the first in the industry of things, and boy that word stuck out to me because I’m thinking about social gaming for example.
When we first did The Digital Life back in the early days we had on Brandon Romero and Soren Johnson to talk about what then was the giant craze in social gaming, that’s when gamification was first becoming a term. Social games ran hot for a few years, and now they’re ice cold. Ice cold. The giant Facebook business models of social games, it was a technology that was new, it caught people’s attention, people dove deeply into, and then the novelty wore off and with the novelty wearing off so did the profits wear off for the companies that were trying to invest in that way.
This has a very similar stench to it from my perspective. It’s very novel how the AR is working and people are able to say, “Oh, there’s the video game creature on my screen interposed over the real world behind it.” Cool, good. Obviously people are responding to that, but I don’t know that I see it as an industry. I don’t know that that leap for augmented reality is possible, so I’m interested to hear your take on it.
Maybe convince me otherwise.
When I say the augmented reality industry, I’m not purely talking about delivery via your smartphone, or even via your tablet, which you know might be another mobile device for you. There’s technology coming like the Magic Leap, which is sort of a combination of the virtual reality goggles but you can see your surroundings.
I think I call it a helmet, the virtual reality helmet.
Yeah, but rather than it being like this blind to reality piece that you’re wearing …
… on your head, it superimposes high resolution whether it’s for gaming or other images on top of your actual reality. From the perspective that there’s this broad spectrum of possible technologies for augmented reality, I actually think that’s going to be, maybe the winning technology isn’t the right way to frame it but I do see the usage for augmented reality to be extremely high and a lot of possible use cases. Another example, Microsoft has their Hololens technology, which is from what I understand nowhere near as good as what Magic Leap has. That’s once again another technology that could be used in a business context, in healthcare, in communication, in gaming, all of those things.
Now if we dial all of that back and look at what it means that Pokemon Go is this fad, it’s a casual gaming hit. I think it’s fair to say that these casual games that invoke the barest minimum of augmented reality, sure that’s probably a fad, just like the social games were on Facebook. But at the same time it’s a hint at the flavor of augmented reality to come. What it does do, despite the limited way in which in constructs the digital on top of the physical reality, what it is doing is creating all of these interesting forcing functions to get you to do things in the real world.
I know that we went to the park this weekend to hunt for Pokemon and that wasn’t on the agenda, to go and stand around in the park. We love going to the park and walking, but this time it was specifically that task, that activity was specifically tied to the game. No matter how weak or low fidelity the augmented reality part is, it was still enough to get us to do something in the real world.
But it sounds like you guys would do that anyway.
Sure. There are of course all these Poke Stops, right? I’m just waiting for us to go to some places where we normally wouldn’t go. The park was a nice excuse because it was familiar territory to us and we might have gone there anyway. There’s this interesting confluence of the digital and physical that happens somewhat rarely I think. You’re either sort of absorbed in your digital life, or your in the real world and never the twain shall meet.
Augmented reality, really the promise is, or the threat is, that you’re grafting on the digital life onto your physical being, which really reminds me of the first time I saw that was of course in the late 80s, watching Terminator for the first time and you see that shot where the Terminator gets all that info about people superimposed on top of them. First of that was the coolest, I thought that was the coolest thing because I was a young kid at the time, but that’s really part of the promise of augmented reality, is the superimposition of information on your physical world and being able to leverage that information a little bit more directly than via the screen.
Yeah. Yeah, that all makes a lot of sense. You know there’s been a lot of interesting stories. This has been such a phenomenon that a lot of interesting stories are blossoming out of it from smaller stories, like the stock price of companies that make extra batteries for smartphones are going way up because this games sucks so much energy and everybody wants to play it constantly.
To a little bit deeper stories. One that I found very interesting was that it’s easier for white and affluent people to get the things they want in the world than for minorities and lower income people because the way the company that made the game mapped the stuff was based on usage of passed games that they have done, which are generally played and owned by higher income, more white basically people.
Now that Pokemon Go has become this big craze that is less for, this is an overstatement but it’s simple terms, a wealthy gaming elite. Now this is a game that everybody wants but there’s a lot less to be done and to be had in low income neighborhoods because the databases are built on behavior from the play of people who are more wealthy. Interestingly it’s easy for wealthy people to get more out of the game than low income people because of the way that this was all built up.
Yeah. I think there’s some other factors involved in that too. From what I understand it’s a little easier to find the Pokemon creatures around highly populated areas, versus out in the country say. I think there’s also a sheer numbers of people playing it factor there too.
The design for the databases began on usage around passed games, so at the beginning, from the core of how the rewards world was built, it was explicitly built around people who played games like this that weren’t giant phenomenons. To a degree the population density is shifting things a bit as the game continues to move on, but certainly the core of the games was built and populated in a way that gave preferential treatment, unintentionally, to the wealthy.
Yeah. I guess my point with that is that it’s in terms of the game being excluding certain areas, that’s also true of less populated areas, because there have been complaints that there isn’t enough to do out in the country, as opposed to closer to highly populated areas. There’s definitely areas of exclusion, not just based on income level or race but also geographic location, which take that as maybe an other artifact of their original database.
Definitely, I think they might have benefited from a director of inclusion on their team to be thinking about these kind issues ahead of time.
I’m pretty sure they did not have a clue that they were going to be this in demand this quickly.
Sure, but that’s also the blindness of privilege, is to not try and account for those things, popularity aside.
For somebody at the database [inaudible 00:17:36] these are populated in affluent white areas, and have that filter on and looking at things. I think in this day and age that’s sort of a 101 level error.
Sure. Yeah, there’s an interesting stage for the Pokemon Go company because it’s attracting so much attention that I think over the weekend they rolled it out [inaudible 00:18:06] 26 new markets, new countries. Whether it was because of so many new users, or because hackers had a Denial of Service attack on their servers, it was really difficult to get on.
I think it crashed at one point.
Yes. It crashed for a while, I know because we were checking.
Did the kids bash the phone on the ground, frustrated?
No, we’re not to the phone bashing stage yet, fortunately. It certainly was a phenomenon that swept through my household this weekend, for good or for hill.
The question is, how long with the phenomenon keep hold? In 6 months if we revisit this topic, what will the popularity of Pokemon Go be, and/or what will have come after it that approaches or equals or exceeds its popularity?
Yeah, it’s hard to say what will drive this going forward. I imagine there’s going to be at least a month or so of heightened Pokemon Go activity. At that point it’s probably a fad, I would think. Either the next game will come along, or the next augmented reality thing, or just the next cultural event. It has seized to be just a game though, it really is a cultural event at this point, which is interesting because we don’t have a lot of those of cultural events now frankly that are positive, right?
There are a lot of positive things about this game. Sometimes you feel that around major sporting events, there is a feel good part, or the Olympics or something of that nature. But as far as positive cultural events go, this is not a bad one to have considering what else is going in the world.
Listeners remember that while you’re listening to the show, you can follow along with the things that we’re mentioning here in real time. Just head over to thedigitalife.com, that’s just one “L” in The Digital Life, and go to the page for this episode. We’ve included links to pretty much everything mentioned by everybody. It’s a rich information resource to take advantage while you’re listening, or afterward if you’re trying to remember something that you liked. You can find The Digital Life on iTunes, Soundcloud, Sticher Player FM, and Google Play. If you want to follow us outside of the show, you can follow me on Twitter, at @JonFollett. That’s J-O-N F-O-L-L-E-T-T. Of course, the whole show is brought to you by Involution Studios. Which you can check at goinvo.com. That’s G-O-I-N-V-O.com. Dirk.
You can follow me on Twitter at @DKnemeyer. That’s @D-K-N-E-M-E-Y-E-R. Thanks so much for listening.
That’s it for episode 164, of The Digital Life. For Dirk Knemeyer. I’m Jon Follett, and we’ll see you next time.