Game On

Murphys Law Pokemon GoSo has mobile gamification’s time finally come?

“Yes of course it has” I hear you answer. “Have you been on Mars while the rest of the world has been playing Pokémon Go?”

Yes, I realise that Pokémon has been stealing all the headlines of late, but in fact, gamification on mobile has been around for years; it’s just been a bit sporadic and campaign-based until now.

Take Walkers Crisps and their Text & Win campaign that ran in the UK in 2005. Seven per cent of the UK population took part in the campaign, which offered consumers the chance to win an iPod mini every five minutes. It attracted 17m entries in total, and despite the fact that consumers could choose to enter via text or the web, in the UK – the campaign also ran in Belgium and Holland – 80 per cent of entries came via text.

Trivia quiz
Meanwhile, out in Africa and other emerging markets, Upstream Systems has been generating millions of dollars of revenues for mobile operators for years, with (among other offerings) text-based trivia quiz competitions that mobile users pay to enter, paying more as they progress through the competition, attracted by the prospect of winning substantial prizes in the form of cash or expensive cars.

Upstream’s success is based – or was the last time I spoke to them about it – on the fact that it offers the operator a guaranteed no-lose scenario. It’s a little like fixed fee insurance for on-pack promotions if you’re familiar with how that works. Having run so many of these competitions over the years, Upstream goes to the operator with the proposal. It explains how much revenue the competition is likely to generate, based on past experience. It then works out how much the prizes will cost, subtracts one from the other and comes to an agreement with the operator about how much they will keep and how much Upstream will make for its efforts. In both cases, we are talking substantial sums of money.

Augmented reality
But the new wave of excitement around gamification is slightly different, and has a common theme – augmented reality. The idea of capturing Pokémon monsters in real-world locations has captured the public imagination in a way that even the creators of the game can barely have imagined.

Only this morning, I read about the exploits of one US-based player, Peter-Joey Pham, who embarked on an almost farcical trip taking in Sydney, Tokyo and London in his quest to capture the three characters he was still missing. His planned itinerary gave him 14 hours to catch Kangaskhan in Sydney, 10 hours in Tokyo to to catch Farfetchd and 12 hours in London in pursuit of Mr. Mime. In the event, he abandoned his quest after being hit by a car in Sydney. Business Insider has the full, scarcely-believable story; it’s well worth a read.

I’ve heard differing views on Pokémon Go, from those at one end of the spectrum who believe it’s the beginning of a new era of mobile engagement, to those at the other who believe it’s a here-today, gone-tomorrow phenomenon, with little long-term future.

But I’m in no doubt it has started something. Just today we wrote about the launch of the Pez Play app from the sweet-maker of the same name. The app uses AR tech from Zappar to let users interact with Pez characters in the real world. Sound familiar? I would imagine the app was in the works before the Pokémon Go phenomenon was unleased on an unsuspecting world, but who knows.

SnapChat Filters
Then look at SnapChat. Yes, first and foremost, it’s a social network, but I’ve lost count of the hours my teenage kids have spent using SnapChat’s AR Filters to turn themselves into dogs, aliens or bees. (Or 101 other things.)

I guess the key to all this is the ever-reducing cost of technology, which will enable more brands going forward to build levels of interactivity into their apps that were prohibitively expensive a couple of years ago.

That and the fact that if you’re trying to engage with someone on this most personal of devices, you have to give them something that’s either useful or entertaining. The AR gimmickry certainly ticks the entertaining box.

So whether Pokémon Go is a flash in the pan or here for the long term, I think we’ll be seeing zombies on our streets for many years to come. For the most part, they’ll be the ones staring at their phone, bumping into lampposts, engaging in whatever the next gamification hit proves to be.