Mobile Mavens

Does Pokemon GO leave room for another location-based hit?

Does Pokemon GO leave room for another location-based hit?

Pokemon GO wasn't the first location-based game to exist, but it was certainly the one that showed the size of the opportunity.

A record-breaking title, racking up more than 650 million downloads and as many MAUs as the population of the UK, it's a phenomenon that's still going strong after its July 2016 launch.

Location-based gaming is attracting interest from elsewhere too, with Finnish startup Shipyard Games - three founding members of which previously worked together on 2011 geo title Shadow Cities - attracting $2.9 million investment from Supercell.

But at present, Pokemon GO continues, as far as most are concerned, to stand alone in the location-based space. Why is this? We put it to our Mobile Mavens: 

  • Why haven't we seen more location-based games in the vein of Pokémon GO?
  • Is location-based gaming a winner-takes-all market?
Oscar Clark Author, Consultant and Independent Developer Rocket Lolly Games

Oscar Clark has been a pioneer in online, mobile, and console social games services since 1998. He is also author of the book, Games As A Service – How Free To Play Design Can Make Better Games.

I hope we are at a stage where location can be a valuable part of gameplay. We have been waiting for a very long time - I still have a design doc from when I worked on a Vampires vs. Hunters location tagging game in 2002! It never got past a demo...

Still, with the pervasiveness of rich data, connectivity and devices capable of location, we still haven't found a compelling, generic reason to play location games consistently.

Pokemon GO is the exception that proves the rule, I fear. A game whose whole premise was getting out and catching them all makes more sense as a location game with amazing brand momentum.

Pokemon GO is the exception that proves the rule, I fear.
Oscar Clark

It was disruptive and I wonder if it showed us the hidden, missing audience for mobile games we are failing to attract.

There are other models. I always bring up a game called Triangular, which was a five-a-side game in a field where you try to create triangles with 150m sides in order to capture the opposition.

It was kind of like paintball and amazing fun to play. There was an episode of GamerTV which perfectly captured how ridiculous I am whilst playing it in Barcelona.

But those kinds of games have yet to gain any momentum either (much less than games like Ingress or Shadow Cities).

What happens, though, when we really see AR and location come together? What if we see our friends as the opposition, aiming their guns at us, or Orcs attacking our defences?

If we ever see an AR LARPing game I may risk bankruptcy! And I've not even started thinking about AR sports.

But keeping our feet on the ground, we know there is something in location alone. We either need someone with deep pockets or a fearless attitude to show us what these games can become after Pokemon.

Gameplay which makes the most of our everyday movement, surprising us with reasons to act and move about, but which is also compelling enough that we don't feel forced to change our ordinary behaviour.

I want location to work. I want to see real, playful experiences that is augmented by GPS and data about that location. I want playful movement to be meaningful.

But the trouble is that you need to make me want it enough to get off the sofa...

That's still the question.

Shintaro Kanaoya CEO Chorus Worldwide

Founder and CEO of Chorus Worldwide, a publisher for Western mobile developers seeking success in the Asian markets, Shintaro has over 20 years' experience within the gaming industry.

He has worked in various roles from game production, localisation, marketing and business development at companies such as EA, SCEE, Rare and Microsoft.

Pokemon’s 30-year history and user affinity building, plus the natural fit of exploring a world and battling, fit so perfectly with location-based tech today.

The marriage of that IP and the technology was as perfect a match as has been seen in recent years.

That said, as location-based tech improves and richer data is generated from the world, I can imagine new experiences becoming viable.

Interior data, tracking while on public transit - places where people spend a lot of their lives - could be used to create more meaningful and relevant play.

To expect another Pokemon GO-style cultural phenomenon is probably too much to hope for any time soon.
Shintaro Kanaoya

Hiding things in specific rooms of a campus or leaving a message on a particular train - more granular geo data could unlock new gaming options.

To expect another Pokemon GO-style cultural phenomenon is probably too much to hope for any time soon. To be honest, it probably takes a global brand (not necessarily a gaming brand) to re-create something on that scale.

Maybe we’ll see a Starbucks game (“go to every Starbucks in England to win free Starbucks for a year”), but this strays closer to gamified marketing than games per se.

That said, the history of games is littered with large open-worlds to explore so designers should be familiar with the mechanics required to make that compelling.

There’s nothing quite like discovering a half-buried chest on top of a desolate mountain in Zelda - how does a location-based experience recreate that in the real world, and how will it make me care?

I could see exciting cross-play experiences, too, such as location-based experiences that tie into a game I’m already playing.

GTA would be a great example of that: “Go to the real Empire State Building and earn a better weapon in-game”.

William D. Volk Chief Futurist Forward Reality

Pokemon GO is based on one of the most valuable game properties and was an excellent execution that managed to get a crowd-sourced effort to build the location database by launching a previous game (Ingress).

It truly was The Perfect Storm.

I recall prior location-based mobile games going back to the text message-based BotFighters, first released in Sweden in 2001, that achieved success.

And I, as well as others in this group, have attempted to launch location-based games as well (in my case a design dating to 2009 called BSU - Blowing 'Stuff' Up, so to speak).

One of the huge issues is liquidity. You need a lot of players and you need them real soon now, if you want the game to be a success.

Poker is a example of a game that needs liquidity, but at least if you get a modest number of tables filled up 24/7, you’ll be okay.

One of the brilliant moves in Pokemon GO was the lack of a serious PvP mode early on. That made it possible for the game to be interesting from day one.

What’s going to make this genre finally happen will be Apple (and others') efforts in mixed reality.

In a decade, what you do with a mobile handset and touch, you’ll be doing with normal-looking glasses, gestures and speech. I’m betting on it, since I jumped into this space.

This is not the first time we’ve seen a game genre take some time to take off. I was playing Genie AirWarrior at some crazy per-minute fee in 1989 with it’s crude graphics and seconds of latency (kudos to Kesmai for masking that via clever design).

Now, we finally have Wargaming’s World or Warplanes and War Thunder. Sometimes the tech just has to reach a good enough level, as with VR and other examples.

Is location-based gaming a winner take all? Well, in the age of the app store with poor discovery, it’s very hard for independents to match the marketing muscle of established publishers - but it does happen.

Will Luton Senior Product Manager Rovio Stockholm

I think it's hard to demand the only way to play is to go outside and walk around.

I suspect a combination of novelty and an incredible brand allowed Pokemon GO to achieve its success. Each Pokemon has a personal resonance. You want to catch 'em all.

However, what I do expect is location to append other experiences. I spoke a lot in the early days of mobile that location could be as effective as time as a return trigger. But they don't have to be exclusive.

Jared Steffes Co-founder Muxy

I like location gaming and I still use Swarm (Foursquare) on the regular.

Swarm awards a currency based on the leaderboard of the user's friends. It is fun to see who the top people I know are for the week. I don't play Pokemon GO because it is too needy for me.

Location gaming is really for a specific niche of gamers and I'm not sure if it is very casual.
Jared Steffes

Location gaming is really for a specific niche of gamers and I'm not sure if it is very casual.

Free-to-play mechanics can make gaming a chore, requiring the user to load the app at specific intervals.

Location gaming can also be perceived as a chore with a higher cost to the player, as it is not as simple as loading up the app.

The IP needs to be strong enough to get a large number of players to do the more difficult "chore" of location gaming. I feel a new IP wouldn't stand a chance given the cost to create.

The entire infrastructure for location gaming is extremely difficult from backend and third-party services, all the way to accuracy and battery life on the player's side.

It is almost a guarantee that someone is working on simple solutions to building location gaming. The reliability and affordability of it will determine which giant brand will tackle location gaming next.

When Pokemon GO launched, it was very interesting to watch how Twitch broadcasters tackled the game.

Some very unique rigs were developed to allow broadcasters to live stream their phone/tablet, while reading chat, and powering their alerts/overlays. I feel it really kicked off the whole notion of streaming everywhere.

Here is a tweet of some of my friend's newest mobile Twitch streaming rig.


Features Editor

Matt is really bad at playing games, but hopefully a little better at writing about them. He's Features Editor for PocketGamer.biz, and has also written for lesser publications such as IGN, VICE, and Paste Magazine.

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