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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Gotta Catch 'Em Everywhere

This is an article about Pokemon GO.  If you're a player reading this, you probably play this game already, and if you don't, you probably aren't interested.  If you are a store owner in the hobby game trade reading this, you need to recognize what is happening here and where you fit in.  You will either capture or miss out on what already appears to be substantial earning potential.

Pokemon GO is a mobile cellular "augmented reality" game published by Niantic Labs under license from Nintendo subsidiary The Pokemon Company.  Niantic Labs, formerly a subdivision of Google, cut its teeth publishing the game Ingress, which is essentially the same game with a different skin.  Ingress is among the most successful mobile platform software ever published, and like Slurm, is refreshingly addictive.

What is an "augmented reality" game?  It's a combination of geocaching and Capture the Flag.  The game takes place on a Google Maps overlay in which the player is located... where the player is actually located, in real life.  The very spot on the globe that player sits, stands, or otherwise exists upon.  To move the player's avatar in the game, the player has to travel, physically, through the world.   Even in the heady days of Wii Fit and Dance Dance Revolution, no software has ever had such success in getting players to exercise.

Why move?  To capture objectives and fulfill missions, of course!  The game Ingress allowed crowdsourcing to establish an entire planetary war between the noble blue Resistance team and the misguided green Enlightened team, against the backdrop of fictitious alien invasion.  Prominent landmarks and community gathering spots became "Portals" between the alien and human worlds.  Players had the ability to attack, defend, and link portals together in an ongoing resource aggregation conflict.  Basically, the damned frogs spent an inordinate amount of time spamming their way across town, state, and planet turning everything the wrong color, and it fell upon the valiant Smurfs to set things right and ensure that blue skies reigned overhead.  All the key addictive elements were present: the "nurturing" mechanic (level advancement), the "collecting" mechanic, achievements, capture-tag bragging rights, social media integration, and on and on.

So Ingress is addictive.  I almost typed "was" addictive, since I managed to force myself to stop playing in order that I might return to things like running a successful business, spending time with my family, and not dying in a traffic accident while trying to drop a level 8 resonator on that unclaimed portal perched atop a roadside fountain.  I'd place the addictiveness of this game somewhere north of World of Warcraft (anecdotally) and somewhere south of cocaine powder.

Ingress does have drawbacks.  Since portals are not supposed to be located on private residential land or in places otherwise not accessible from a public thoroughfare, a lot of the time when a player is just at home or visiting a friend or whatever, the player has nothing to do in the game.  There are no portals within range, it's economically inefficient to sit around collecting game dimes recharging remote keyed portals, and the only housekeeping you can do with your inventory is mostly stuff not worth wasting the time to do.  If only the game had... you know, random encounters.

Enter the Pokemon license.  You can catch them Whirlydudes without even leaving your sofa at home, though you'll need to get up and move elsewhere in order to seek out the rarest and most powerful Pocket Monsters.  You can spend downtime cultivating your thinly veiled cockfighting kennels.  And this multiplies what you can do when you go out and congregate, because there are now PokeStops where you can get items, and PokeGyms where you can challenge other players to battle.

Niantic appears to have copied and pasted the Ingress map to Pokemon GO, such that busy portals became PokeGyms, and other portals became PokeStops.  This includes a fair to decent number of comic and hobby game stores.  Desert Sky Games and Comics is a PokeGym.  The Chinese restaurant a few doors down is a PokeStop.  I fully expect a giant groove to wear into the sidewalk with the amount of back-and-forth pedestrian traffic running the route every day already, noses in phones.

This game has been huge from day one and is only going to get bigger, in the short term at least.  Niantic has yet to maintain server load for a single day under the crushing demand for this product.  It's free to play (with microtransactions) and it works on the most common video game platform in human history, the smartphone.  And while we cannot sell the game, Pokemon GO presents opportunities for us.  I believe the core opportunity can be summarized as "A-B-C."

Advertising.  The purpose of advertising in our trade, as I have discussed here on this business blog in the past, is to generate arrivals.  Once they are in the store, your merchandising, customer service, and messaging takes over.  Advertising is for getting people to show up to begin with.  If your store was a portal, and is now a PokeThing, congratulations, you just accidentally won all the foot traffic you can handle.  Post a Facebook boosted advert with your store's Gym/Stop face photo from the game, and the players will beat a path to your door.  After that you've got to convert them somehow, but that's a separate question.  If your store was not an Ingress portal, I don't know what to tell you.  Keep your eyes open for Niantic to open registration for that at some point.

Bridging.  Does your store sell video games?  If so, I barely have to finish this paragraph.  If not, does it sell trading card games?  Virtually all hobby game stores do.  I don't think I have to tell you that the Pokemon TCG is worth your time to bring in, if you haven't already.  This is the 20th Anniversary of the license, so every month Nintendo has been releasing new Mythical Collection limited print run box sets, and every two months a Mythical Red & Blue box set, and these products are selling beautifully because they are the only two retail means to acquire Generations XY booster packs, a set reprising popular Pokemon from the game's earliest days in brand new threads.  If you have a respectable looking Pokemon TCG display when the Pokemon GO players come to your storefront, believe me, you will make some sales by pure osmosis.
Cross-pollination.  More than a few retailers have reported that they are getting some sales of snacks and sodas from visiting Pokemon trainers, but that's it.  While I agree this is certainly revenue we don't want to pass up, I think it's setting the bar pretty low in terms of the real potential here.  Comics and tabletop games are entire hobbies unto themselves.  By pure math it is unavoidable that your store will be visited some number of times by humans who have never set foot in a comic or hobby game store before.  If they see a clubhouse that is esoteric and unwelcoming, that's as far as they will ever explore.  We need to be on the (Poke)ball, with our mainstream-welcoming customer service chops and our smiling faces.  Everything they look at needs to be presented, merchandised, and if possible demonstrated in its best light.  Rather than seeking to make a sale today, my goal with each blue ocean arrival is to cross-pollinate psychologically: I want them to like the store.  That's all.  Just that.  I just want you to like DSG.  Come trap your Eevee in my playmat display, fight off those heathens from team That Other Color, and walk out of my store having fun.  If you did have fun, at some point, you'll be back.

Advertising, Bridging, Cross-pollination.  A, B, C.  A - Always, B - Be, C - Closing,  Always Be Closing, Always Be Closing!  Okay, perhaps a lighter touch than that might be most appropriate.  But you get the idea.  You need to be ready.  Your store needs to be ready.  Everything needs to be in place and as inclusive and welcoming as it can be.  Thanks to the efforts of Nintendo and Niantic Labs, a substantial number of people are going to be beating a path to your door in an attempt to have fun.  Think about how much blood and treasure we expend in an effort to get people to do that, and now it has just fallen into our laps and we didn't even do anything.  Please, for the love of all that is good within us in this business, do not impede the fun.  Instead, devise a means of amplifying that visitor's Sense of Wonder, so that he or she might return not as a visitor, but as a potential customer, a curious gamer or collector seeking adventure and excitement in your domain.

1 comment:

  1. You could post a board where you can pin up pictures of particularly rare or powerful pokemon captured at your location.

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