Pokemon Go Influences Design

The Pokemon Go game has evoked unprecedented excitement about Augmeneed Reality, both from players and from observers. As I have commented before, the technology itself isn’t particularly astonishing, I’ve see similar and even much flashier stuff in AR labs quite a few years ago. What impresses is that Niantic and Nintendo built a great game, and they use really simple AR (plus GPS) to great effect. Very nice job.

With the great success and insane levels of public awareness, it seems that many people are discovering AR, and are discovering some of the important feature of this technology that I and others have been excited about since the turn of the century.   I think this game will be extremely influential, far beyond “mobile games”.

Of course, everyone has noticed the potential issues of AR in public spaces, which may seduce users into dangerous, annoying, or other undesirable behavior. It’s a miracle there have been so few casualties simply from people falling or being hit by traffic.  This is something that needs attention by every app designer.  (And note the Pokemon Go Plus, discussed below.)

For that matter, we have see that there are significant questions about the propriety of overlaying virtual content (and commercial content, at that) onto other people’s content. We frown upon painting over artworks or museums, and generally don’t consider that defacing the design and messages of others is OK. So how is a digital overlay OK, even if only the players can see it? It’s an interesting question, and we have seen that there are gradations of tolerance. E.g., “augmenting” sacred spaces is much less acceptable than similar augmentation in a more secular setting.

People are beginning to become excited about the “whole body” nature of the AR experience, even in this very limited phone and GPS based game. The players are motivated to  get up from the couch and going outside, moving around their city, seeing things and meeting people.

To play, you have to be here, now, in the real city. And there are other real people here, now, also playing.  This is an essential feature of AR, and I have long advocated this aspect of AR and related technologies as incredibly important, and something that should be a key goal in many kinds of design, not just for games.

I say to digial designers, let’s start reversing and healing the isolation and passivity created as a side effect of our digital technology.

Finally, Niantic has a new “wearable” that riffs of the AR experience, subtracting the screen, creating a more subtle, “invisible” interface. The Pokemon Go Plus is an ugly (IMO), unfashionable wearable “watch-like” device (intended for kids), which connects the wearer into the game without looking at the phone.

I gather that the LED and vibration signal the basic events of the Pokemon game, and the button lets you respond in a general way. The phone interface is locked out, so you have to walk around paying attention to the world, not the screen (what a concept!) But you are kept aware of the hidden game world, and can keep in the game as you walk.

I like this concept (assuming I understand it correctly). Having learned about the fantasy world that overlays everyday reality through the phone, this device lets you step back from the tiny screen, yet still know the fantasy is there around you. I note that the distinctive (and to my eyes, silly) looking device visibly marks you and the other players. So you know that you are surrounded by other players.

Add in some “secret” hand signals, some slang, and the players can thereby “hack” the system to have its own little society. (Niantic may want to add in some LED or haptic signals that recognize other players and teams. This would let you be aware of the social context, too.)

This game is so influential, I have hopes that designers will learn from it and will steal these ideas for other uses. No, I can’t tell you what other killer apps will remix this technology. But I bet there will be some good things inspired by Pokemon Go.

In short, I think this game will be recognized as an important milestone in design, and influence on many systems in the future.

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