Unless you’ve been avoiding the internet and all other news outlets for the past couple of weeks, you’ve probably heard about Pokemon GO, the instantly viral mobile app sensation that has spread across the U.S., New Zealand and Australia. Since its launch earlier this month, the joint smartphone app from Nintendo and Google spinoff Niantic has inspired throngs of people to gather together and explore their cities to catch virtual monsters in augmented reality (AR). Unlike virtual reality (VR), which even further separates gamers from the outside world, it turns out that AR could be a widely-accessible answer to humanizing interactions in the virtual world. In a staggering few weeks, Pokemon GO has become one of the most viral mobile apps of all time–and has opened the floodgates of game innovation with a new IP that could potentially change the way we game forever.
The creators of Pokemon GO were incredibly thoughtful in the way they designed the game, and we noticed a few hallmarks of entrepreneurial innovation that were instrumental to the success this new phenomenon:
- They teamed up to combine key strengths. Entrepreneurs are largely self-starters, but they’re also smart about how and when they ask for help. Pokemon GO isn’t the first AR game that’s been on the market; Niantic previously launched a similar game called Ingress several years ago. The game was based on the concept of walking around and collecting virtual objects in real-life settings, but it was too niche and overly complicated. Niantic knew there was something there; it just needed a bit of cleaning up and branding help, and that’s where Nintendo came in. By using the original user-generated content from Ingress, but replacing the original game’s theme with a simpler Pokemon focus, the game instantly went from being esoteric to irresistibly engaging. Niantic brought the tech, but Ingress couldn’t stand alone without a bigger hook to draw in a wider consumer base. They couldn’t have executed such a successful product without Nintendo there to bring the brand.
The Takeaway: Entrepreneurs don’t have to do everything alone. Maybe the missing piece to your puzzle is a key partnership or a dose of external perspective.
- They tapped into insights about their target audience. According to a recent PewResearch Study, 68% of American adults own a smartphone. Perhaps more importantly, 86% of millennials own a smartphone–which happens to be the generation that grew up with the explosively popular original Pokemon card game and franchise. By resurrecting a childhood favorite “nostalgia bomb” in a new way and making it accessible to a vast majority of the population, the game was set up for success from the beginning.
The Takeaway: Many great innovations are results of “perfect storms.” What different consumer insights might you be overlooking that you could combine to make something completely new?
- They built a fast MVP. Pokemon GO is far from the most polished game on the market. The graphics are passable, but not stunning; many gameplay elements are poorly explained, and server issues have crippled the game more than once. The creators could have wasted years perfecting those details, but they were confident that the core concept was well-realized and would hold the interest of its players more than some fancy graphics or extra bells and whistles. Getting into the market was the priority, and rightly so: not only does it give Niantic first mover advantage over the flood of AR and VR games on the horizon, but they are now able to leverage real-world data and feedback to inform what features to add or improve first. This insight is already leading to the addition of in-game trading, and it will help ensure the success of Pokemon GO Plus, a premium physical peripheral for the games’ most involved fans.
The Takeaway: Don’t get tripped up over the details. If the concept is solid, then prototype, test and get an MVP out to market; you can always tweak it later using real-world insights. Nobody likes coming in second place.
- They leveraged a current technology in an unprecedented way. We all have mobile devices on us 24/7 and look at them periodically throughout the day. The Pokemon GO creators made sure that the game was designed so that we could use it in the way we tend to use our phones–in quick bursts throughout the day–while also giving it the functionality to use it for longer periods. Players can pick up Pokemon GO at any time of the day, even if it’s just for a few minutes at a time, just as they might browse social media or send off a text message while waiting in line. Pokemon GO capitalizes on the ways we’ve already been conditioned to use our phones, so it feels like a natural extension.
The Takeaway: What insights about human behavior can you apply to your own product and/or business? How do people already naturally behave? How can you tap into that?
- They reimagined the traditional consumer experience. Truly great innovation not only leverages current thinking, but levels it up to a whole new plane. Gaming has long been a relatively sedentary and solitary activity, and Pokemon GO has managed to motivate people to get up and out of their homes in droves, prompting social interaction and physical activity. (Could Pokemon GO be an unexpected solution to America’s obesity epidemic?)
The Takeaway: Pokemon GO could have been a regular mobile app game, but the developers stretched their thinking to create something unprecedented with the addition of an AR experience. Ideate outside your context and look at unexpected places for inspiration.
It will be fascinating to see the implications Pokemon GO has for other unique gamified experiences. What other applications could there be in this space for consumer education about health problems or awareness of certain causes, for example? Could Niantic’s IP be the answer to a new wave of widespread human interaction and/or education? And furthermore, how can brands potentially use this new platform as a monetization vehicle? We’re excited to find out.
The Garage Group helps corporates innovate and grow like startups with ideation that disrupts industries.
Photo credit: Creative Commons 2.0 user Eduardo Woo