Pokémon Go and the Brave New (AR) World
It’s been a strange new world for me since Pokémon Go was launched. As someone rather invested in the augmented reality (AR) world, I was professionally interested. As someone who had nostalgia for the game and TV show, I was personally interested. What I didn’t expect was the attention that Pokémon Go started getting my company, SpellBound. I started receiving calls from the media, asking to talk with an AR expert about Pokémon Go. When I was doing interviews about my business, the topic always came up. When I was pitching my business, I no longer received blank stares when I used the term augmented reality. Pokémon Go has impacted the world in a lot of ways (economically, socially, health-wise, etc.), but here’s my take on the impact it is having for the AR world in general, and more specifically, for AR startups.
Pokémon Go has generated interest in using augmented reality. Bringing AR to mass market in a sensational way has raised awareness, and by making it a game with beloved characters, it has made it accessible for people. There is less hesitation in trying something new. Pokémon Go is less a game about AR than a game about Pokémon. This eases the transition and helps with market preparedness for all AR. I feel one of the big downfalls (certainly not the only one) of Google Glass was that they threw out a device that society was not ready for: social norms, behaviours and etiquette worked against a device that hadn’t found a solid purpose, nor was genuinely fun. Pokémon Go introduces AR to the masses through a device they already love/depend on and in a way that is not overbearing (you can turn the AR off). This is a much more innocuous way to roll out an unfamiliar technology.
Pokémon Go has generated interest in making augmented reality. Closet game developers, hobbyists and part-time geeks everywhere played Pokémon Go and said, “I could make that”. The simple character overlays made AR seem more achievable than it has ever seemed to those not already immersed in the industry. Pokémon Go-like games are popping up, encouraging people not only to experiment with AR creation, but to share it with the world. As the owner of an augmented reality tech company, I can tell you that it is difficult to easily locate midwest talent in the areas we need: game engine development, C# ninjas, 3D modellers and animators. Don’t get me wrong: there are a lot of great modelling/animation programs at community colleges and some universities offer classes in game development or C# programming. The problem is that there are not enough companies in the midwest using those skills to really retain top talent in the area. We have experienced this first hand, losing the first modellers/animators we ever worked with to gaming companies in California. So having more people showcasing AR skills and more startups making products means that we have a better chance of creating AR communities that exist outside of the west coast.
Pokémon Go has generated interest in investing in augmented reality. When I first started pitching to investors (and anyone who would listen), I had to spend a lot of time educating people on what AR was and describing its value to the world. There are plenty of predictions out there about the AR market ($80B by 2025*, $120B for AR/VR by 2020**, etc.), but those forecasts were always met with disinterest or skepticism when I mentioned them. With Forbes and The Economist writing articles on Pokémon Go and it’s economic impact and CB Insights estimating that Pokémon Go has saved some 78K small businesses from bankruptcy***, it is suddenly no longer a reach to believe that the market could be massive. There is evidentiary support that AR has a place in day-to-day life, that it can be monetized (directly and indirectly) and that it can positively impact the economy. This has got investors’ attention. In fact, funding for AR and VR companies in 2016 has already surpassed last year’s total by 85%****. Now this isn’t entirely because of Pokémon Go. Companies like Google and Facebook snatching up AR real estate, startups like Magic Leap raising a $793M series C, and the many AR/VR-specific funds popping up have been bigger drivers, but Pokémon Go is a factor in making midwest investors more familiar with AR and more open to the possibilities of a solid market opportunity.
So I will continue to personally enjoy Pokémon Go - trying to catch them all and control more than the gym at my local Korean church - but I am also happy to ride the Pokémon Go train into an AR market that is growing more and more solid each day.