Letter from America: Pokémon Go and You

Heiss_Pokemon_GO Wash Crash_Aug 2016
The Great Wall of Los Angeles.

What does a river with no water, an art mural, and a video game have to do with explaining and selling custom systems sales, design and installation?

The river in question is what is laughingly called the “Los Angeles River”, but for decades it has been little more than a concrete lined flood channel. If you’ve heard anything about the five-year drought here in California you know it is quite dry. In a section of what the folks in my neighborhood call “the wash”, across from the high school and community college my son attended, there is a landmark mural on one side. Running over one kilometer long, it has a spectacular graphic presentation of the history of Los Angeles from the pre-pueblo days to modern times. Next to “Great Wall of Los Angeles” is a walkway frequented by joggers and families just out for a stroll.

That’s the river and the art, but since both are outdoors, how do you play a video game and what is the connection to us?

The answer is Pokémon Go — a game with a reported worldwide download total of over 75 million, probably making it the most downloaded game ever. Remember that this is a game played only on smartphones (and, if you really want to, on tablets) and in almost all cases, only outdoors.

Heiss_Great Wall GO_August 2016This screen capture (left) shows what a Poke Stop looks like in the game. 

Pokémon Go presents some interesting opportunities for you. We do recommend that you install it and play it a bit, but that is not essential. What is important is that it can take your company back to one of the original roles for us, that of “Digital Concierge”. Yes, your younger clients, or if you will, their children and grandchildren may know all about it, but if your clients have read or hears about it, but don’t “get it”, who better than you, as keeper of “all things digital”, to help them.

Do you have a regular blog, newsletter or other customer facing communications through your website? Trust me on this: Just downloading it doesn’t tell the whole story. Do you or someone on your staff know enough to author a quick “how to” guide to help non-gamers along when someone in the house asks the client to take them to a “Poke Stop” or “Poke Gym”? There are now obvious instructions with the game and you can link them to the official guide. Better yet, create your own bit.ly or similar to the rules page to track response from your customer base.

While you’re at it, Pokémon Go is a great follow-up on some of the concepts in last month’s Letter. With all the attention we expect to see in the marketplace this year, you are bound to get asked about the difference between Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR). On the surface it may be hard for some to grasp the difference, but Pokémon Go comes to the resume. Rather than explain VP first, instead, if you are close enough to a Poke Stop, see if you can lure a character within range and then show them your phone with the game on. Show them how the phone-generated animation modes in real time while superimposed over what the camera sees. Point to the “AR On/Off” switch at the top right corner of the screen and explain that is what “AR” is.

Once you get that message across, it is then easy to say that Virtual Reality is all computer generated and intentionally blocks out reality while AR is a mix. To make the point even stronger, take the same phone and exit the game. Then, place the phone in a Google Cardboard and show any of the numerous VR sources available. Even better, if your phone is a Samsung, demo a Gear VR for an even more complete experience. Using this you will quickly find that a picture is, indeed, worth a thousand words!

Wait. Let’s back up a bit. You do know what a Poke Stop is, correct?

If you don’t, that brings us back to our original question involving the river and the mural. Once someone gets into the swing of the game they will quickly run out of the “Poke Eggs” that you flick across the AR image to catch various characters. The way you “reload” is to look on the main screen for a revolving cube. Get close enough to it and it turns into a series of concentric circles. Then, click on it and you’ll see a picture of something and its description. Around my neighbourhood that could be a Mexican or Armenian restaurant, the Chabad synagogue or the Congregational Church, or any one of another local spots such as the fountain inside the big shopping mall.

When you are close to the proper spot, click and then spin the image and you’ll see the red and white Poke Eggs appear on the screen and then you are ready to go.

Heiss_Wash Go Long_August 2016This screen shot shows the many blue cubes representing the many Poke Stops along the length of The Great Wall of Los Angeles.

What about the mural and the river? As the screen shots here show, there are numerous Poke Stops all along the length of the mural. Given the high density of them we haven’t driven past there at any time during the day and not seen people, typically together in groups, competing with the usual joggers on the path next to the fence. OK, I admit it, contrary to what you would expect from a Los Angeleno, I actually got out of my car, walked a bit and harvested a few Poke Eggs for myself.

Yes, this level of detail summarizes the concept of AR and reinforces the benefit of telling novices how all this work so that they, too, can go walking with friends or relatives – it’s a good reason to get out of the home theater seating and exercise! But what, you would correctly ask, does this have to do with your business?

The answer is that those Poke Stops didn’t just get there by accident. People have submitted the location information and an image to Niantic, the game’s publisher as part of Nintendo and The Pokémon Company. By filling out the form found on the Pokemon website you can put your, or your clients’, business location in the queue. It’s not instant and there is no guarantee that you’ll get an acceptance, but it is certainly worth it in the right situation.

Conversely, you may have heard that some locations, such as Arlington National Cemetery and the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC have complained about being Poke Stops and asked that they be removed from the game. You use that same request page to ask to be removed. Just as you or a client may want to be a “Stop” to draw traffic to their location, as the curators of the mural wall, the shops and restaurants did, so, too, may you, as the “digital concierge”, be asked to remove a Stop from in front of someone’s home or place of worship. An acquaintance of ours who works at a major cemetery here in LA told us that some of this colleagues had to do just that, as a way to prevent people from entering after dark and otherwise wandering around in a way deemed disrespectful.

Wrap all of this up and you get our final message that you need to be aware of all aspects of digital trends, as sometimes they may intersect with your business even though the direct connection to your daily tasks may not be so obvious. As you work to increase your business’s reputation as the expert on all things digital you can only help build your sales and revenue, as well. Always keep your eye out to see how you can capture and take advantage of these trends.

Now, I’m going back out to get some exercise, take in the art or the Great Wall of Los Angeles and catch some Venonats, Charmanders and Rhyhorns in the process. Anyone care to join me?

Michael Heiss is a technology consultant and journalist, CEDIA Fellow, CEDIA ESC 2 Certified, and US correspondent for HiddenWires magazine. You can contact Michael via the HiddenWires LinkedIn Group. Follow him on Twitter: @captnvid.