What Freeport’s Businesses Need to Know About PokemonGo

Keith McBride on July 12, 2016 in Experiential Retail, Marketing

Picture by flickr.com user:  Eduardo Woo.

If you haven’t heard of it yet, you probably will soon.  PokemonGo is a game, downloaded for free to phone or tablet.  Nothing groundbreaking, so far.  There are thousands of those.

This game is currently the most downloaded app on both the Android and Apple stores.  It’s been out for approximately one week, and it’s already more popular than Facebook.  It is estimated that it increased the value of the Nintendo Company (which owns Pokemon) by $7.5 billion, in just TWO days.   Let that sink in.  That’s incredible.

So . . . what’s so special about it?

PokemonGo operates in “augmented reality” (as opposed to virtual reality), and relies heavily on users’ GPS-enabled phones.  In other words, the game is played not just on a screen, but also in the towns, neighborhoods and streets that already exist all around us, and the game tracks where you are physically on the Earth using your smartphone’s GPS.

It’s the ultimate solution to the complaint that video games encourage people to sit on their butts.  This game requires you to go outside and play.  For example, players can acquire an “egg” from which special characters can be hatched.  How do you hatch the egg?  You have to walk 10 kilometers.  The game monitors your progress.  Physical activity.  Put this in the “pro” column.

This also means that there’s likely to be an increase in people walking around with their nose stuck to their phone.  Con.  Big con.

The way you play the game is to walk around sidewalks, parks, parking lots, and wherever else you can access to find characters “hidden” there.  You can only see and catch the characters, (the Pokemon) if you’re looking through your phone, when the game activates your camera and you see it on the screen, there in front of you, animated into the image provided by the camera.

The game also creates some hot spots where players need to visit in reality to take advantage of game events there.  Some of these spots offer opportunities to catch more or rare Pokemon characters, some offer locations (called “gyms”) where players can square off against other players in poke-combat.  But again, you can’t do these things unless you are physically at these locations.  You have to go there.

I went ahead and took a screenshot of downtown Freeport in-game.  Let’s take a look:

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I’ve edited the pic to include some street names for your reference.  The game does not provide these.  At center-bottom of the pic, you can see my avatar, centered at my office location in town hall.  Let’s zoom in:

Screenshot (Jul 12, 2016 11-11-38 AM)_picmonkeyed (1)

On the Main Street side, and on the Depot street side of Town Hall, there are blue-cube icons.  These are PokeStops, where users can visit to obtain special items.  There are historical markers there (for the Grove Street School site, and for the Mallett Houses/Oak Street Village).  Already, we’ve seen people stopping here to obtain their special in-game bonuses.

To the north, we see two other distinct icons, larger and yellow in color:

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These are two of the gyms set-up in town.  The one to the west of Main Street is at the giant LL Bean boot, and to the east of Main Street, the former Corsican restaurant.  These are locations where players can meet up to do battle in-game.

 PokeStops and gyms exist all around Freeport.  Some of the historical markers and other sights in town are already hot spots where players can visit and obtain special game items, including the 9/11 monument in front of Public Safety, the Freeport Community Library, Memorial Park on Bow Street, and the B.H. Bartol Library historical marker.  Many businesses are also currently hot spots: China Rose, Frosty’s Donuts, Allen Edmonds Shoes, LL Bean, Shay’s Boutique and the Walking Company.  Battle “gyms” have been established at the Train Station/Information Center, the giant LL Bean Boot, the (former) Corsican restaurant, and at the Freeport Fire and Rescue Museum (next to the fire station).  In other words, the game could potentially drive an awful lot of traffic to these hot spots, and the community is already taking notice.

Who chose these locations . . . and why?  

This is a somewhat long story . . .  but I can make it quick.

Years before PokemonGo, the developers created another game (called Ingress) which involved geolocation, and chose a number of obvious popular sites (like national historical sites and monuments, well-known museums and churches, etc.) and added hundreds of thousands of others based on photos loaded into Google maps and based on user suggestions.  When they developed PokemonGo, they just adopted the same maps, the same sites and the same photos from Google.

What if you aren’t a hot spot?  How do you become one? 

Well, in the past, the Ingress mapping system has been open to suggestions for new sites.  But as you can imagine, the developers are being inundated with requests.  As of September 15, 2015, they have stopped accepting new submissions.     This date is not a coincidence.  The concept for PokemonGo was announced 5 days earlier, September 10, 2015.  This trailer video hit YouTube on the same day:

It had millions of views within a few hours.

The announcement set off a feeding frenzy for information among tech-media and gamers.  And obviously also among others who wanted to be involved.

So, the short and unfortunate answer is that if you’re not already tagged as a PokeStop, gym or other hotspot  . . . . it’s probably too late.

Great.  So, I lose.  What now?

Don’t give in just yet.  The game is still driving traffic.  Figure out how.  Welcome it.  Get involved.  Through my own research, I’ve learned that you don’t need to be literally on the property to activate a hot spot location in the game.   Figure out why users might be travelling near or through your business, and cater to them.

It’s a good idea to PLAY the game yourself to see and understand how your location, even though its not a hotspot itself, fits into the game.

For example, the former Corsican is a battle gym, except that the building has been taken down following the fire.  Players going there to battle will most likely be literally standing on the sidewalk.  But its likely they don’t need to be literally ON the property to activate the gym hotspot.  Are you nearby?  Do you have a place to sit down?  With air conditioning?  And maybe drinks to sell?  And maybe an opportunity for non-battling players to window shop for while others battle in augmented reality?  If so, I’d slap a big ole picture of Pikachu on the wall, next to a big sign that says “PLAYERS WELCOME,” and put out some chairs in the shade.   MAKE yourself an unofficial hotspot if you can’t be an official one.  Get involved.

I AM a gym/Pokestop/hotspot!!  WOOHOO!  Wait . . . now what do I do?

USE it.  Welcome the gamers.  Advertise that you are a hot spot.  Don’t ignore it.  First ones on top of this will get the most attention, so don’t delay.

PLAY the game.  I don’t care if you think if games are stupid, juvenile or a waste of time.  To appeal to this traffic, you need to know what they’re doing and what they want, and use it to your advantage.

For example, players can augment hotspots (making them SUPER hotspots) by using in-game “lure modules” that will attract Pokemon characters to that location, so other players can catch them there.  It costs about $1.00 (based on in-game purchases) to get and use this lure module, which will be active for 30 minutes. The game shows me (and every other player in the area) that some user has the module active at that location, and tells me that if I go there, I will be likely to catch more Pokemon characters.  It creates a Pokemon feeding (catching?) frenzy.  One dollar for 30 minutes of increased traffic straight to your door.  It’s a no-brainer, really.  I’ve seen the hotspots at Frosty’s Donuts and L.L. Bean do this already.    This is just one way the game can drive traffic.

We have seen shopping traffic change in Freeport over the last 5-10 years, and we’ve seen the shopper change from being an outlet/bargain-hunter to someone seeking an experience.  PokemonGo can be another part of the experience, if the businesses make it so.

Before dismissing it as a fad, consider just 48 hours following its release, it was already loaded onto 5% of all smartphones in the United States, according to web analytics firm SmartWeb.    That data is now 4 days old.  It could have easily doubled or tripled by then, as the attention (good and bad) it’s receiving is only multiplying its popularity.  In short, that number will not decrease any time soon.

Before dismissing it as childish, consider this quick survey conducted by the folks at AndroidCentral of people the writer saw playing the game at the PokeStops in his immediate area.  Read it.  The author was shocked to find not one single person under 20, and players in their 50s excited about the game.   Also consider . . . I’m in my mid-30s (Okay, fine . . . LATE 30s.  Grrr  . .) and I’m playing.  And without outing anyone . . .  I’ve met lots of other people my age that are playing, too.

See you all at the battle gym.