You must have been asleep over the past couple of weeks not to have heard about Pokémon GO. The Augmented Reality game from Nintendo and Niantec lets players roam towns and cities using their phones’ GPS maps looking for Pokémon creatures to catch. It’s essentially a gamified Google Maps that overlays digital characters on the real world.
Pokémon GO’s blurring of digital with reality has already made it one of the most successful app games ever: just one day after launch the app was installed on more US Android phones than Tinder. One site which allows people to get around the current country restrictions saw 4 million visitors in just one day. It’s little wonder Nintendo’s stock has jumped from £13bn to £19.6bn (and climbing!)
Trust me: if you’ve not yet seen someone on the street hunched over Pokémon GO, you will soon – but only if you live in a developed market. I have a hunch that Pokémon GO won’t have quite the same impact in emerging markets as it’s had in the US, Australia and Europe (and soon Japan and Korea).
There are three barriers to truly global success:
- Connectivity: Pokémon GO is reliant on a constant data stream to enable the geolocation-based gameplay. This poses a problem in places where data network coverage is patchy, slow or non-existent. Pokémon GO presupposes an infrastructure that in many places doesn’t exist. For example, throughout Africa and much of Latin America, you cannot be guaranteed of stable mobile connections that will sustain gameplay.
- Cost: Data still comes at a premium in many markets. Most customers in these markets simply won’t be able to afford the data costs that accrue after just a short time playing the game. Case in point: I played Pokémon GO in South Africa a couple of days ago and tore through my 30mb data allocation in just five minutes – this is impractical for the majority of gamers in the country. In markets where data is often a valued commodity, it will be hard to convince users to give up large allocations of their data for a single app.
- Safety: The game is based on people being able to walk freely around their local towns or cities. It is worth noting that, in parts of the world, personal safety is still a major concern and can make this type of gameplay dangerous.
As the first true breakthrough Augmented Reality app, Pokémon GO is an important innovation. It points to an exciting future where apps bring together the full features of smartphones and their owners’ immediate environments.
It’s still unclear how Pokémon GO will adapt to meet the unique challenges found in emerging markets.
At this stage, Augmented Reality may still only ready for the developed world. App businesses in emerging markets need to focus on solving the above barriers first. Once these can be overcome a huge opportunity awaits.