Feature Story

Pokémon Go Brings Monster Opportunities for Business

The game’s use of location, augmented reality, and addictive gaming principles offer plenty of untapped potential for the business world.

More than 20 million people play Pokémon Go each day. They’re spending 50 percent more time finding and capturing digital monsters in real-world locations than they spend on Facebook, according to AppInstitute.

Not bad for an app that just launched in July.

It’s easy for business leaders to dismiss the app as a fad that doesn’t matter much to them. But experts in a variety of fields say that organizations should take advantage of the concepts that make the game a blockbuster hit.

Pokémon Go addicts play through a blend of three things: location technology, augmented reality and gamification.

None are new, but they offer plenty of untapped potential for the business world.

Take a look at how some companies are applying these concepts today. Perhaps this will spark innovation about what your business might try next.

Location technology

Pokémon Go’s use of location is relatively unusual, in the gaming industry, which is often criticized for contributing to a sedentary lifestyle. To succeed in Pokémon Go, players must move around.

This has been a big win for businesses that rely on foot traffic.

McDonald’s struck a sponsorship agreement with Niantic Labs, the game’s creator, to have nearly 3,000 restaurants serve as special Pokémon hubs in the game, encouraging gamers to head for the nearest McDonald’s.

Location technology is the aspect of Pokémon Go that raises the most security and privacy flags.

Michelle De Mooy, deputy director of the Privacy and Data Project at the Center for Democracy and Technology, told security website The Parallax that the location data the game collects could be “used to profile, target, and make inferences about people that can have harmful effects.” And any high-profile collection of data is inevitably of interest to hackers.

So, businesses looking to incorporate location data will need to consider the right policy and technology safeguards.

Augmented reality

Augmented reality (AR) is a cousin of virtual reality (VR) where people interact with the real world with digital information layered over it.

Google Glass, which could show directions or other data in an eyeglass-style display, was many people’s first exposure to the technology.

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While Google Glass wasn’t a hit, UK-based research firm CCS Insight says successful AR headsets are just around the corner, projecting a $1.2B market for AR “smart glasses” in 2017.

George Jijiashvili, a research analyst for CCS Insight, says that while Pokémon Go represents a mainstream breakthrough for AR, enterprises are already applying both AR and VR.

Kraft Heinz, that’s right, the food company, uses augmented reality technology to turn the label on their ketchup bottles into cook books with numerous recipes. (Like many AR uses, it’s easier to understand by watching.)

Package-delivery company DHL uses augmented reality to improve the efficiency of warehouse workers.

Victoria Rege, director of global alliances and ecosystem development at graphics semiconductor company Nvidia, says manufacturing companies are already investing in virtual reality. Auto companies like Ford use it in the design process, saving money by creating and tweaking digital prototypes before making real ones. BMW uses VR in the showroom so buyers can see how customizations would look.

Virtual reality is more immersive than CAD renderings. And VR lends itself to a kind of walkthrough that can surface issues hard to identify in any other manner.

Rege mentions the so-called London death-ray skyscraper, a structure that inadvertently magnifies and concentrates sun so intensely that it has melted car dashboards on the streets below. “That’s the kind of issue you can identify in the design phase with virtual renderings,” she says.

“Almost every industry where there’s a design component is working to apply AR and VR,” says Rege, including product design, architecture, retail, and manufacturing. As customers increasingly adopt AR wearables and Oculus Rift or Microsoft Hololens-style headsets, the opportunity will continue to expand.


The pleasure people of any age gain from playing can be applied to almost any task or objective.

“If you make a behavior enjoyable, then you don’t have to pay them or punish people to get them to do it,” he says.

Chou’s field, gamification, has been applied to all sorts of endeavors.

In healthcare, Pain Squad is a game-style app that helps motivate young cancer patients to consistently fill out a pain journal, helping improve their treatment plans.

Chou says software giant SAP used gamification to increase employee participation in an internal knowledge management system by several hundred percent.

Waze, a user-based traffic and mapping app, brought a social, game-style interface to location services. “They were competing with big companies like Garmin and TomTom that could make big investments in their products,” Chou says.

The Waze interface contrasted with more earnest-looking competitors, helping the company build a dedicated and engaged customer base. Ultimately Google purchased the company for a reported $1.3 billion.

Getting started

Companies just starting to think about how to apply these ideas won’t have to go it alone.

“One unique thing about the VR community is an incredible amount of sharing and collaboration between companies,” Rege says.

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Chou says the key for successful gamification is to focus first on target users’ motivations. His  Octalysis framework identifies eight motivations, including social influence, delight stemming from unpredictability, accomplishment, and meaning. Don’t just “slap badges and levels on everything,” says Chou, calling that approach a recipe for underwhelming results.

Pokémon Go also illustrates some of the long-term challenges that these new products and services will have to address. “Will people still play it in two years? That depends on how it evolves and how good the endgame design is,” says Chou.

Nevertheless, the game makers are surely happy they started now. What about your business?