The release of Pokémon Go—an augmented reality game that has been developed for IOS and Andriod devices— brought with it a rock slide of nostalgia. 20 years after the first Pokémon game was released for Ninendo’s Game Boy, people can finally catch Pokémon against the backdrop of their local environments.
But while players are running around, hunting and capturing Pokémon, Niantic and Google—the two companies who teamed up to develop Pokémon Go—are hunting for data that can be harvested from players.
Pokémon Go records a player’s geospatial data: where you’ve been, how long you’ve been there, and at what speed you’re traveling. All this information can be used for various commercial purposes, such as location-aware advertising. If companies know where people are at certain times, they can send players advertisements for businesses in that area. However, Pokémon Go is not the first app to use geospatial data, and any map-based app has the capability to track users’ movements and monetize that information.
But Pokémon Go differs from other map-based apps because it does not just monitor a player’s movements; the game can influence where a player goes. By strategically placing in-game incentives that are tied to real-life landmarks, the game forces players to travel to physical locations. The fast food chain McDonald’s has sponsored Pokémon Go in Japan, and in return, McDonald’s had its 3,000 Japanese stores converted to Pokémon “gyms”—places where players can use their collected Pokémon and compete with other players.
Businesses in the United States and Europe are using similar lures, by paying to draw certain Pokémon to their locations for a brief period, as a way of luring more foot traffic. Currently, Niantic has been placing Pokémon gyms around public landmarks, but they could soon start franchising gym locations, in a similar way that has happened with McDonald’s in Japan.
So far, it seems that players are more than willing to trade in their personal data for a dose of nostalgia.