With an incredibly successful release in four continents, Pokemon Go is undoubtedly going to be one of the most memorable games of 2016. A combination of it taking advantage of everyone’s nostalgia for Pokemon and the fact that it is essentially the first high profile Augmented Reality game means that Pokemon Go is probably going to be the closest you can get to hunting actual Pokemon in real life (for now anyways). In the short span of a couple of hours, people from all walks of life got together and discovered landmarks that they would’ve otherwise ignored to hunt Pokemon, Nintendo’s stock skyrocketed (and subsequently plummeted), and a small number of people got into some accidents while playing the game.
Of course, most normal people would attribute Pokemon Go’s success to its free to play model and its theme, but that probably wouldn’t stop businesses from trying to replicate Pokemon Go’s success with their own AR based games, apps, or products. After all, as immersive as Virtual Reality technology may be, there are some very real limitations that come with using VR headsets like the Oculus and Vive. By comparison, as Pokemon Go demonstrated, you can have a very basic form of Augmented Reality on something as simple as your phone, with the only downside being that people tend to have a lack of situational awareness.
Unfortunately for such aforementioned businesses, Google already tried selling AR technology with Google Glass, an item that quickly coined the term “Glassholes.” Similarly, Microsoft is developing their own AR product, the HoloLens, but it isn’t exactly going to be released any time soon. But what if all this wonderful and fascinating technology was in living rooms all around the world by tomorrow? If Pokemon Go is any indication, this may result in a slow, but massive shift in society, much like how smartphones have become a central part of many people’s lives.
Sure, the most obvious applications of Augmented Reality technology are going to be gaming and business related, but what about the average Joe who is strolling around? Maybe he is wearing Google Glass 2.0, reading the news or looking at a text, and then he walks into a garbage can (or worse) because he is completely oblivious to his surroundings. Or perhaps he gets a ton of ads as a result of glancing at a pop up accidentally, much like how accidentally clicking on an ad today leads to some shady looking websites. Of course, all of these scenarios are relatively benign compared to what can possibly happen if such technology is manipulated. From basically doing away with privacy to outright hacking, tracking, and exploiting those who don’t know any better, there is a lot of potential harm that can be done. Just look at how some people tried to use Pokemon Go to mug people, or how you are now carrying something that can track your location and personal information at all times, and then apply it on a larger scale.
Then again, no advance in consumer technology comes without risks, and we are likely only just beginning to understand Augmented Reality’s potential. If millions of people can download Pokemon Go, have a rough understanding of how to play it even if they have never played anything else before, and use it to actively engage with other people for free, then Pokemon Go may very well be the first nail in the Virtual Reality coffin. After all, VR was the thing that everyone was going crazy over, at least until it became pretty obvious that (as it stands now) it just isn’t at a stage where most people can or will be willing to pay a lot of money for an experience that is almost entirely solitary. Throw in the relative ease to market products to AR users (i.e. shops offering discounts to Pokemon Go players), and VR headsets could remain a niche product for a long time.
It would be hard to predict the future though, and who knows, maybe Virtual Reality will become the new standard, or maybe it won’t. Given the relative obscurity of Niantic’s previous Augmented Reality game, Ingress, anything can happen, although it is hard to argue against the claim that Pokemon Go brought a lot of attention to AR technology. It might have even given projects like Microsoft’s Hololens just enough of a public perception advantage for your average consumer to identify with, and sometimes that’s all that is needed to squash a rival product.