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Location, location, location: Pokémon GO's unique strength and biggest problem

Niantic eyes sponsored locations just as the complaints from real-world businesses start to roll in

The basis of Pokémon GO's popularity may be found in its cast of iconic creatures, but it's Niantic Inc.'s use of real world locations present the most opportunities - and more than a few problems to boot.

Pokémon GO has been a massive and immediate hit for the Niantic and The Pokémon Company. The game is still only available in a handful of markets, the biggest of which is the US, but it's already sitting pretty at the summit of the iOS and Android top-grossing chart - a landscape so immutable and unyielding that many companies had all but given up trying to access its upper reaches.

Exactly how much money Pokémon GO is making is still unclear, but its impact is already evident in the stock market, where Nintendo's escalating share price has added around $9 billion to its market cap. It should be noted that Nintendo is only a part owner of The Pokémon Company, too, which makes that sharp increase all the more impressive.

The key now is monetisation. SuperData estimated that Pokémon GO made more than $14 million in revenue after four days on the market, but, according to a report in The New York Times, Niantic is already lining up more potential revenue streams. John Hanke, CEO of NIantic, said that it will partner with real-world businesses interested in becoming "sponsored locations," where players will be offered incentives to find Pokémon and collect loot.

"Reports of close calls associated with playing Pokémon GO already are rolling in... No race to 'capture' a cartoon monster is worth a life."

National Safety Council

Niantic implemented a similar model in its last game, Ingress, which combined real locations with AR content in a similar way to Pokémon GO. The difference here, Hanke said, is scale: Ingress amassed 15 million downloads in total and retained around 1 million players a month. Pokémon GO is already "quite a bit beyond" those figures, and it is only just beginning to launch beyond the US, Australia and New Zealand.

"We expected it to be popular, but we didn't expect it to be like this," Hanke said. "We're just getting our feet underneath us."

And Niantic needs to stay grounded, because the ambiguous implications of combining such a popular IP with real-world locations are already becoming clear. Concern over the hordes of Pokémon GO players roaming the streets, one eye locked to a smartphone screem, has already prompted the Australian police force to issue safety advice, and now the US-based National Safety Council has done the same. The organisation warned of the dangers of "distracted walking" and "distracted driving," which have caused thousands of injuries and deaths over the last decade.

"Every single injury and death could have been prevented if pedestrians and drivers stayed alert and prioritised the task at hand. Reports of close calls associated with playing Pokémon GO already are rolling in. The Council urges gamers to consider safety over their scores before a life is lost. No race to 'capture' a cartoon monster is worth a life."

And the issue goes beyond personal safety. A report in The Washington Post has documented the dismay of the city's Holocaust Museum, which became the site of three "Pokéstops" despite the sensitive nature of its collection. The museum's communications director, Andrew Hollinger, said, "Playing the game is not appropriate in the museum, which is a memorial to the victims of Nazism. We are trying to find out if we can get the museum excluded from the game."

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The Pokémon Company has since clarified - per Eurogamer - that it has a system in place for buildings and businesses to be delisted from the game. However, that process involves filling out an online form and waiting for the complaint to be assessed, which has the potential to be cumbersome from the perspective of anyone making a complaint and, with millions of Pokéstops and Gyms already out there, a significant time-sink for Niantic.

"PokéStops and Gyms in Pokemon Go are found at publicly accessible places such as historical markers, public art installations, museums and monuments," a Pokémon Company spokesperson said. "If you want to report inappropriate locations or content, please submit a ticket on the Pokémon GO Support website https://support.pokemongo.nianticlabs.com."

The question now is whether Niantic and The Pokémon Company are as willing to engage with the issues that arise from their use of real-world locations, as well as the commercial possibilities.

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Latest comments (7)

Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing A year ago
I wonder whether Nintendo will send its Japanese customers to the Fukushima exclusion zone.
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Jeff Kleist Writer, Marketing, Licensing A year ago
As I understand it, a big part of Nontendo's issues is that they require anything to do with interfacing with the programming or hardware teams to be translated and passed through the proper channels. There is no "red phone" that Reggie can pick up and be connected to them to head off this giant PR nightmare in minutes instead of days or even weeks. The addition of Niantic likely adds another layer of bureaucracy to the mess.

I could be wrong on their internals, but they certainly wouldn't be the only Japanese company this affects.
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Andrew Jakobs Lead Programmer A year ago
The biggest problem is the random plotting of spots, having seen video's of masses of people running into a highway to catch a f-ing virtual creature and having all the traffic pile up and swerve to not hit those morons, I think Niantic should be sued for creating such a very dangerous 'game'.. They should have made sure those creatures would not appear in dangerous places (highways, traintracks just as an example) and make sure they got permission to add spots in residential/private places instead of the randomly computer generated spots.. But heee, doing nothing and getting a lot of cash is what it's all about... Yeah ofcourse I should submit a ticket for an inappriate spot, instead of it not being there in the first place...

Edited 1 times. Last edit by a moderator on 15th July 2016 8:42am

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Show all comments (7)
Pokestops and Pokemon gyms are not randomly generated - they're based on user-submitted data from Niantic's previous game Ingress. Pokestops map pretty much 1:1 with Ingress portals, down to the photos and descriptions that accompany them. This is why urban areas and those with lots of Ingress players have more Pokestops than rural or poorer areas. It certainly seems Niantic could have done a better job of vetting some of these locations though, and the fact that reporting an inappropriate location is not built into the app seems like an oversight to me.

I am super not here for calling distracted AR players 'morons' or 'jackasses' who deserve to get injured or killed though. Come on guys, this isn't Reddit.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jessica Hyland on 14th July 2016 9:32am

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Connor Martin Aspiring game designer/tester A year ago
I don't see the appeal in dying for a virtual monster.....that is only thus far from the first generation, I see a Feraligator in a pond I'm going in though.
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Gary LaRochelle Digital Artist / UI/UX Designer / Game Designer, Flea Ranch GamesA year ago
I'm seeing businesses be both in favor and against being a destination. Some have complained about people running around their shops/businesses looking for creatures and upsetting the customers and business in general. Other businesses are offering discounts (10%-20%) to people who buy things while hunting for creatures. The businesses that don't want to be a creature spot don't know that they can be delisted or even how to be delisted.

The other day I saw a father and son (the boy seemed to be around 5-6 years old) both had their phone held up and looking for creatures while walking down the street. The father had to keep an eye on his son because the boy never looked up from the phone. He was constantly putting his hand on the boy's shoulder to keep him from going into the street or running onto other people.

And these problems have been popping up: http://www.sfgate.com/news/texas/article/The-Latest-Not-easy-or-automatic-to-opt-out-of-8376439.php

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Gary LaRochelle on 14th July 2016 2:45pm

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I think we are not surprised that Nintendo (though their actors) has stumbled into a legal mess - the memories of the whole Wii legal action for injury and damage still fresh with many of us.

Congratulations on Pokemon GO, but some minus points for execution and approach to customer safety.

I think we will be all interested to see what happens when the larger theme parks approach the 'delisting' process, and how quickly the developers will enact these requests - in order to avoid possible legal action?
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