As Pokémon Go players sweep the nation, businesses look to ‘catch ’em’

Players playing Pokemon Go at Peace Park, Columbia | Uliana Pavlova
Players played Pokemon Go at Peace Park in Columbia. | Photo by Uliana Pavlova

In a little more than a week, Pokémon Go has taken over America.

To get a sense of the game’s popularity, all you had to do was spend five minutes Tuesday afternoon in Columbia’s Peace Park, where at least 20 people roamed the premises, hunting Pokémon.

How do you identify a Pokémon Go player? They are probably wandering around, engrossed in their smartphone, sometimes stopping to scream, “Got it!” Many are millennials, kids of the ’90s who grew up playing Pokémon on Nintendo consoles.

Pokémon Go is a free mobile app, based on the popular Pokémon franchise, that became available in the U.S. on July 6. To play the game, users wander around using GPS and augmented reality to find and collect virtual creatures. The phone vibrates when one of the creatures is nearby and needs catching — and players, as the tagline goes, “gotta catch ’em all.”

But Pokémon players aren’t the only ones enjoying the game’s immense popularity. Businesses the world over, including several in Missouri, are trying to capitalize on the sensation.

A boost to business

So, who benefits from this craze?

Well, Nintendo.

The Japanese game maker saw its share price rise 74.6 percent between July 5, the day before it was released in the U.S., and Thursday.

For the developers of the game, the app is currently bringing in $1.6 million in daily revenue from in-app purchases, according to market researcher Sensor Tower Inc.

But local businesses also took note of the Pokémon obsession and are trying to take advantage.

Emily Hall, owner of Main Street Books in St. Charles, turned her bookstore into an unofficial “PokeStop,” where trainers — the name for people playing the game — can buy water and get discounts if they show a picture of a Pokémon caught in the store. Hall says the candy store across the street put up a sign: “Even trainers need snacks.”

“A lot of small businesses around town are getting into it,” Hall said, “cause you know we are all geeks.”

Michael Gelphman, founder of Kansas City’s Disruption Institute, a mobile app development school, said the success of the game can be instructive for developers.

“It’s an example of how we can leverage our phones to create new experiences by interacting with the physical world in a completely different way,” Gelphman said.

Nostalgia and more

How do you explain the popularity of Pokémon Go?

“It’s a combination of a very well-executed augmented-reality experience, nostalgia/brand awareness and addictive game mechanics that gets people adventuring outside in the real world,” Gelphman said.

A small sampling of Missouri millennials echoed Gelphman’s sentiment about the lure of nostalgia.

“I think it’s just ’cause we all know we would have died to have this game when we were 10,” says Berry Brooks, an MU junior studying international relations.

The game also requires users to go outside and move around a lot, with certain in-game achievements requiring players to walk multiple kilometers (suddenly a frequently googled word in America). Instead of sitting on the couch to play Pokémon, gamers are now running around the park.

“Sometimes we just stay at home, but this game gives me a reason to go outside,” said Weihan Wang, an MU junior studying computer science.

More and more stories are popping up about friendships being formed around the game.

“It’s fun ’cause everybody else is doing it as well, and I’ve met some people along the way,” said Collin Wenos, an MU sophomore studying journalism.

Pokémon Go-ing too far?

Since Pokémon Go’s U.S. release, reports of bizarre incidents involving the game have been piling up. The Holocaust Museum in Washington issued a warning to visitors to stop chasing Pokémon inside the museum. Four men in St. Louis used the app to target robbery victims. A young woman in Wyoming discovered a dead body while looking for a rare Pokémon.

Millennials even seem more interested in catching Pokémon than in using the popular dating app Tinder. According to SimilarWeb, a company that tracks web traffic data, Pokémon Go was downloaded more times in a week than Tinder was in four years.

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