Nintendo and Niantic Change the Game

In its boldest move in over a decade, Nintendo—partnering with Alphabet (Google, Inc.) developer Niantic—finally entered the mobile gaming market on July 6 with the augmented reality game Pokémon Go, soaring to the top of app store charts in a record 14 hours. Based on one of the entertainment giant’s most successful and long-lasting franchises, the game challenges players to “catch” adorable creatures with magical abilities placed around a virtual playing field set in the real world.

While the estimated $1.6 million earned daily by the game’s makers from in-app purchases is nothing to sneeze at, the immense popularity of the game and its novel (for the moment) social model is also having a ripple effect across retail outlets, gig economy workers, event organizers and entrepreneurs of all stripes.

Brick and mortar stores and restaurants have an option to purchase a virtual item called a “Lure” that, for a mere $1, will infest their location with Pokémon for a brief period, drawing in potential new customers. DK Donuts & Bakery in Santa Monica California, for example, bought two Lures and offered donuts decorated as “Poké Balls” to incentivize gamers to buy real products while capturing virtual items in the game. Meanwhile, a nearby ice cream shop planned to activate Lures and offer extra cookies to anyone who made a purchase after capturing a character in the store.

Uber drivers also immediately got in on the action, taking to social media to offer rides to players wanting to explore the world of Pokemon beyond how far their feet could comfortably carry

What’s Next?
All this, however, is only the tip of the prospective iceberg. Niantic is reportedly planning to roll out paid in-app promotions to brands wanting to advertise themselves as places where players can collect Pokémon items. Think of the potential for merchandise tie-ins at participating businesses: Pokémon Happy Meals anyone?

There is also a massive opportunity for both the game makers and digitally savvy businesses to leverage the data generated by the game’s mechanics to drive new revenue initiatives. Niantic, for example, might sell data collected about players’ movements as they move through the game to marketers looking to uncover consumer preferences, such as frequently visited locations.

Not a month old as of this telling, the remarkable business potential stemming from this type of virtualized, real-world consumer experience is already obvious. What happens next should be of interest to any professional with a stake in digital strategy, since we can expect to see plenty of innovative multi-channel marketing concepts emerge as the edge of the augmented reality envelope gets tested with Pokémon Go and, no doubt, countless imitators to come.

It’s (Still) All About Identity
While Google is currently the only social identity provider players can use to authenticate to Pokémon Go, logging in with Facebook credentials will be possible soon and, inevitably, more options will be added for international users. Combining social profile data with information generated by gameplay will undoubtedly open new avenues for forward-thinking marketers to drive revenue.

As with many cutting edge consumer technologies, the core game mechanics of Pokémon Go depend on digital consumer identity. The ability to recognize users and safely and compliantly collect their data is tantamount to success not just for mobile gaming, but for anyone doing business with a digital audience. A known and trusted customer is always more valuable than an anonymous user. To quote directly from the Pokémon universe: “Gotta Catch ‘Em All!”

By David Kerin