Pokemon Go comes to Canada: Key coverage to help understand the craze
After a week of buzz, Pokemon Go officially launched in Canada on Sunday. Within an hour of the launch, the app's servers crashed, making wannabe Pokemon stars wait even longer to register.
Here's a roundup some of The Globe's previous coverage:
Your guide to the Pokemon Go craze
By Karen K. Ho
What is Pokemon Go?
Pokemon Go is the latest title of the Pokemon franchise, the popular video-game series that made its debut in 1996 on Nintendo Co. Ltd.'s Game Boy hand-held console. It eventually led to an animated television show, a trading card game, more than a dozen animated movies and an enormous amount of merchandise. Pokemon Go is an augmented-reality game you play on your smartphone by seeking Pokemon to train and battle with each other. The app allows users to wander their neighbourhood in search of characters that pop up on their phone. It was released on July 6.
Why is everyone talking about it?
Pokemon Go has become very popular and heavily discussed worldwide over the past few days in multiple countries despite being officially released only in the United States, Australia and New Zealand. Since the story's debut 20 years ago, many of the franchise's fans now have smartphones and fall into the key 18-to-35-year-old demographic. Many game users have also been uploading photos or stories about Pokemon Go at various locations on social media, including large congregations at parks, usually late at night, and even on the front lines of war zones. Nostalgia for the franchise is enough to persuade some Canadians to download Android application packages (APKs) that enable users to install the mobile game on Android devices well before the official launch. It also has hundreds of distinct, memorable characters that many fans still remember.
How does it work?
After downloading the app and creating a character, users see an animé-like version of Google Maps that hides street and area names and replaces real-life landmarks with Pokemon-specific buildings. As users navigate the real world, their in-game character mirrors their movements and will randomly encounter Pokemon characters that, with luck, they will be able to capture and add to their team. The game is free, but users can buy items in the app instead of through real-life experiences.
Why did Nintendo's stock spike after the game was released?
Nintendo is one of the three companies with a joint investment in the Pokemon Co. along with Game Freak Inc. and Creatures Inc. It's the Pokemon Co. that is directly responsible for licensing and marketing the franchise. However, many Pokemon games are commonly associated with Nintendo consoles, such as the Game Boy and the Nintendo 64. If there is long-term interest and revenue generated from in-app purchases in Pokemon Go, Nintendo would financially benefit. Nintendo has also reported declining sales for the past five years and saw sales of its Wii U console fall well below expectations. But millions of people have downloaded the Pokemon Go app, and, as of May, 2016, the franchise has already sold more than 280 million units of its various video games.
What are the problems so far?
In the rush to get the game before its wider release, some users have inadvertently downloaded malware, such as hijacking software, onto their phones. The development company behind the game, Niantic Inc., allows users to sign up only through a Pokemon.com or Google account. Using the latter gives Niantic access to your entire Google account, meaning that it can read all of your e-mail, send e-mail as you, access or delete files in your Google Drive account and see your search and Google Maps history. The game has also caught the attention of police forces across the United States, which has seen a rise in reports of trespassing and suspicious activity in some areas. Deputies in Goochland, Va., say they have found people on business, church and government properties late at night when the grounds are closed. A late-night hunt for Pokemon in Missouri led some players into a trap set up by armed robbers, and authorities in central Wyoming are investigating after a woman playing the game found a man's body in a river.
Is it a fad?
Pokemon Go combines many concepts already popular across various communities. Bug collecting or species identification, gamification of fitness, distance-tracking applications and, most important, in-app micropayments. It's too early to say how popular or long this game will be around, but two other popular mobile games, Angry Birds and Candy Crush, continue to generate sales and revenue years after their debuts through new updates and additional levels.
With reports from the Associated Press, Reuters and Bloomberg News
Why Pokemon Go shows the way to an augmented reality future
Hunting for Pokemon with my son in historic Lunenburg, my doubts lifted
by Erin Anderssen
By the harbour, in front of the Bluenose Store, as a horse-drawn carriage carrying tourists clopped by, we captured a Jigglypuff. By the fire hydrant on Montague Street, a bouncing blue Nidoran was waiting. Not far away, a Pidgey was snagged, waiting dangerously in the middle of what was luckily a quiet thoroughfare. (Nothing like a digitally squashed Pidgey to take the fun out of things.) Coming around one corner, a Krabby – as in, a crab – surprised us. "There he is, there he is," my son, Samson, whispered, forgetting, in the moment, that the Krabby couldn't actually hear him. "I am sort of freaking out right now," he confided to me.
It's surreal playing Pokemon Go in the historic Nova Scotia town of Lunenburg, hunting virtual cartoon characters along the famous waterfront and brightly coloured, carefully preserved 18th-century houses. And yet, surprisingly fun. Two hours later, we had 27 Pokemon, and a level 5 ranking. This meant we could do battle in the nearest "gym," which had been strategically placed by those clever game masters on the wharf, next to where the Bluenose would usually dock. On this Wednesday evening, the wharf was mostly empty, the famous schooner currently away from its home port. But every new visitor to Lunenburg eventually stops here; now every Pokemon Go player will, too. The founding families never imagined this.
It's no understatement to say that Pokemon Go has become a worldwide obsession, sending Nintendo stock soaring. It's already been downloaded more than the dating app Tinder, and is closing in on Twitter – even though it's only, officially, available in the United States, New Zealand and Australia. Not that this has stopped any motivated gamer in Canada.
For a week, my son, who is 11, had been excitedly volunteering intel about the game, watching YouTube videos to learn how to play, and cleverly crafting the public relations case for why someone in the family should hack the system and get it on their phone. (He doesn't have one of his own.) "It's mother-son time," he told me. "It's really an app to go sightseeing with your kids." "I can run around and burn off energy." "We won't get fat." When he learned we were actually going to play, it was as if he'd chugged seven Red Bulls in one sitting.
Great, I thought, yet another video game, and this one intruding into the real world. And then, there I was, walking the streets of Lunenburg, asking, "Do you see one? Which way do we go? Have we leveled up yet?" – sucked into this hot-cold, GPS-guided Pokemon search along with my son.
"It's as if, until we point the camera," Samson said, "our eyes aren't sophisticated enough to see them."
Mostly, we earned odd looks from fellow pedestrians. (And did I sense a slight judgment that, amid all this history, I was allowing my son to bury his face in a screen?) But, suddenly, in the distance, we spotted two teenaged boys, eyes on a phone, erratically crossing streets. We chased them down. And yes, they were fellow gamers, Tim Godsall, 16 and his brother James, 14, visiting Nova Scotia from Toronto. James pointed out that the first game he and his brother ever played together, years ago, was Pokemon Platinum.
"It's almost like a religious connection to Pokemon," he said. "This kind of brings it to life."
But clearly, the real fan was Tim, who was already at Level 15, and in the hunt for a truly rare Pokemon. He showed Samson his Wartortle. "But it's only 18 CP," he said, referring to the Pokemon's combat power. "That sucks," said Samson, commiserating.
Michael Rajzman/The Globe and Mail
"I have walked more in the last day and a half," said Tim, "than I have in the last two weeks." What he really liked about Pokemon Go, he explained, was that it was more relaxed. "A lot of people get too serious with their video games." At the same time, he said, he would consider "walking into traffic" for a certain coveted Pokemon. (I am pretty sure he was joking.)
So what's the final assessment? I began as a skeptic, but I am coming around. Two hours passed, and we barely noticed how long we had been walking. (At one point, Samson was running up and down the sidewalk, trying to figure out which way to go.) Certainly, this was more activity than sitting on couch. "If we walk five kilometres," Samson told me, clearly game, "we can open an egg."
Some caveats: There have been reports of people walking into traffic, and I can understand why. At one point, Samson grabbed my hand so I could serve as his human guide dog as he followed the phone down the sidewalk. I did have to remind him once or twice to check for cars at the crosswalk, so that's worrisome.
As well, Pokemon and the Poke balls you toss in the game to catch the creatures tend to be found at statues and monuments, and the game creators haven't discriminated on the basis of taste. (Staff at Holocaust landmarks have already told players to show some respect.) In Lunenburg, even supercharged with enthusiasm, Samson was hesitant to collect Poke balls at the Fisherman's Memorial for Lunenburg fishermen lost at sea, which includes the name of his Uncle Kelly. He chose not to play there. If we're going to augment reality with cartoons, maybe we could avoid places where we honour the dead.
But these complaints and worry aside, we did get exercise. It was mother-son bonding – a chance for me to participate in a digital space that Samson enjoys without having to manage a baffling game controller. I don't think I would let him play unsupervised with friends just yet, without more test runs, and not in a busy city – but I'd consider letting him go out with his 15-year-old brother, in Lunenburg, where drivers take their time. And while I expect to grow quickly weary of the constant requests to play, I do relish a new bargaining chip to trade for complaint-free chores and homework. (Whatever. You know you do it, too.) I won't be looking for Pokemon on my own. But if joining in levels me up to cool Mom status, I'm game. Samson and I already have plans to play again on the weekend.
With the sun setting, we ended our first game of Pokemon Go back at the wharf, where Samson was "destroyed" in the gym battle – though definitely not in spirit. Finally, we had to call it quits: the phone battery died. So take heart parents: eventually you will get your kids back – if only because they'll have to charge up.
Pokemon and me
Millennials at The Globe and Mail who grew up with the game explain why it ruled their world
I inhabited the Pokemon world mostly by playing the game on my Game Boy, night and day. The game had advanced mechanics that went beyond cute fighting monsters. You could customize a team and almost "bond" with them. I'd give them invented personalities and could imagine myself in the game easily. That spread to the real world, as I would walk around and imagine how my life would be different if there were Weedles in the trees or if a Dewgong were swimming in my pool. Friends and I would talk about it every day at school, too.
My first grade teacher actually bought us a chart for spelling Pokemon names because that's all we would write about, and she at least wanted us to learn how to spell them correctly.
My favourite was Charizard. He was the biggest and baddest, and in the television show that Pokemon had the best story with the main character, Ash. Their relationship started off rocky but over time, they earned each other's respect. It was quite a rewarding slow-burn for a kid's show. I remember asking my grandma to knit me a sweater with Charizard on the front, but she didn't have enough orange.
I remember my brother sitting me down at our computer and showing me how to play an early version of Pokemon Yellow. The game was in Japanese but that didn't matter. I was so young I could barely read in the first place. I just went through the motions and figured out what the Japanese commands corresponded to on the screen. It still managed to hook me despite my lack of comprehension.
It's just a great place to expand your imagination, especially for kids. Dreaming about what life would be like to live in a world of adventure and magical beasts is a great outlet for any child.
Every person in my generation knows the lyrics to the Pokemon theme song. There's no escaping it. The show itself was simple and camp but appealed to me and my friends for its emotional, exciting stories. The first Pokemon movie even deals with the ethics of cloning and class privilege.
Then there were the cards. I distinctly remember getting my first rare one, a Machamp, and taking it to school despite being terrified of losing it. I was approached by an older kid who offered to trade it for his Arcanine card, one of similar rarity. I accepted, and realized afterward that his Arcanine was a fake. (Fake cards had a purple back.) I had been duped. I have never forgotten this trauma.
My parents never quite understood, but they didn't try to stop me. I do appreciate my dad taking me to the second movie, Pokemon 2000, in a theatre on a Saturday afternoon. They played a fun Pokemon short before the actual movie. I remember having to tell him that the short wasn't the real movie, and that there was still an hour and a half ahead. He went to go stand out in the hallway for a while at one point.
My favourite Pokemon memory is getting my first Game Boy with Pokemon Gold version on Christmas morning. My brothers and I had peeked at our presents beforehand, so we knew what we were going to get, but my parents also threatened to take them away before Christmas. I had seen kids playing the video game at school and desperately wanted to join them. I felt as if I had been given a key to officially join the universe by getting that game.
When I was 7, I had a $10-a-month allowance, so I didn't have enough to spend on Pokemon trading cards or a Nintendo DS, so I entered the Pokemon world through television. I remember it was on at 5 p.m. on YTV, which was prime time for youth programming, between Hey Arnold! and (minimal) piano practice.It was the first television show I really followed. I religiously taped the episodes on my VHS and even clicked pause during the commercials for a superior rewatching experience. I watched them over and over again.Why? Aesthetically, the ultracute animal-based characters fit in with my former loves, Hello Kitty and Minnie Mouse. Shoutout to Vulpix, a fox-like Pokemon, with whom I identify because of its struggle to be taken seriously as a strong Pokemon even though it doesn't look scary.I didn't care much for the fighting, because what I loved best were the stories. The Pokemon on the show were all pure of heart and hero Ash Ketchum's healthy relationship with his Pokemon taught simple values like being loyal to your friends and treating people (and Pokemon) kindly.I don't think Grade 3 me could succinctly explain why I loved Pokemon the series so much, but looking back, it was a consistent experience. Between the dedicated TV time slot and the neatly wrapped storylines, it was something I could count on. Pikachu would always save the day.
By Karen K. Ho
The Pokémon Company International and Niantic, Inc.
Pikachu and his friends are back, they're inside your phone and everyone is scrambling to get them.
Last week, the Pokemon Company released Pokemon Go, its latest instalment in the 20-year-old franchise first introduced on Nintendo Co. Ltd.'s Game Boy portable video game console.
Whether you play games such as Pokemon Go or not, its immense popularity will have an impact on your life. The game's millions of downloads in less than a week have already presented multiple ethical and safety questions for users, game designers, businesses and even homeowners.
With Pokemon Go, an augmented reality game available for download on Android devices and iPhones, users see an animé-like version of Google Maps that hides street and area names and replaces real-life landmarks with Pokemon-specific buildings.
As users navigate the real world, their in-game character mirrors their movements and will try to collect characters through chance encounters at places designated as Pokestops and will battle other users at Pokegyms.
Parks and other major landmarks are seeing a sudden influx of users congregating to collect rarer Pokemon characters or visit multiple Pokestops. Many are actively talking on social media platforms about walking longer distances to increase their chances of encountering more Pokemon. Informal events are being organized to compare notes and collections.
However, not everyone playing will have the same experiences, especially when it comes to perceptions by non-users, such as the police.
Richard Lachman, director of Ryerson University's Transmedia Research Centre, pointed out that a dark-skinned person playing the game late at night in a neighbourhood with a high crime rate will probably be treated very differently than a white person hunting for a Clefairy Pokemon in an affluent park.
"There have been experiences of people playing pervasive games [such asPokemon Go] that have led to riot cops," he said.
The demand for Pokemon Go, developed by Niantic Inc. and officially released in the United States, Australia and New Zealand, quickly overwhelmed servers, resulting in outages, limited sign-ups and glitches in service. Interest in the new game also poured in from other countries, which quickly led to online tutorials on how to get around the location restrictions.
While the initial data for Pokemon Go is significant compared with other popular mobile applications, Prof. Lachman said it's tough to predict whether the game's popularity will be sustainable.
On Monday, Nintendo's stock surged 24.5 per cent on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. According to Reuters, this increased the market cap of the company by $7.5-billion (U.S.) in two days.
But Prof. Lachman said it's unclear whether there will be any impact in the long-term earnings of Nintendo, which has a joint investment in the Pokemon Company along with Game Freak Inc. and Creatures Inc.
While some U.S. businesses are already encouraging new customers to visit by mentioning Pokemon, Prof. Lachman noted that this type of strategy already happened with Foursquare, which saw its popularity fizzle among loyal users within a few years of its peak.
What Pokemon Go does have going for it is a brand with millions of fans around the world, many of whom are in the key 18-to-35-year-old demographic and own smartphones.
The massive popularity of the first two Pokemon video games released in 1996 led to dozens of software titles on multiple console platforms, a trading card game, an animated television series, 18 movies, as well as thousands of licensed products.
The Pokemon Company estimates that it has sold more than 280 million units of its video games, aired its television shows in more than 95 countries or regions and its total worldwide market size is over ¥4.8-trillion ($61.3-billion Canadian) as of May of this year.
Revenue is generated when users purchase upgrades and other items through Pokecoins, which cost anywhere from 99 cents to $99 (U.S.).
A data report published by Torontonian Joseph Schwartz, an online data analyst at SimilarWeb.com, noted that the game has been installed on 5.16 per cent of all Android devices in the United States – well above the installation rates for the popular dating app Tinder.
The number of Daily Active Users, a key metric for engagement and usage of mobile apps, put Pokemon Go very close to Twitter, the social media and micro-blogging service that was established 10 years ago.
When it comes to users in countries outside the United States trying to access the game through alternative means, Mr. Schwartz's data show that Canada doesn't even crack the top 10.
Prof. Lachman, an associate professor of radio and television arts who specializes in augmented reality, real-world games and ethics, said Pokemon Gouses many aspects of games that have existed in other online apps such as Seek 'n Spell and in offline formats such as geocaching.
"The technology has been around. This is just the first time it's crossed over into the mainstream," he said, noting the popularity of fitness apps such as Runkeeper, which already use location tracking and allow users to easily compare accomplishments. "The idea of travelling somewhere through a challenge and being rewarded with something is definitely not new."
Advertisers hope to cash in on Pokemon Go's success
by Susan Krashinsky
DARRYL DYCK/FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL
People who have caught the hype of Pokemon Go are busy chasing down wee cartoon creatures that appear in the mobile game as if they exist in the real world around the screen. And as this phenomenon grows, new players are taking chase: advertisers, pursuing people's rapt attentions within the app.
There is good reason.
In a matter of days, Pokemon Go has blown right past the peak audience of the addictive Candy Crush Saga as the biggest mobile game ever in the United States.
According to SurveyMonkey, the game has 21 million daily active users in that country.
Even in countries like Canada, where the game has not officially launched yet, some have downloaded it anyway through illicit means such as by changing the location settings on their phones.
According to research from SimilarWeb, 6.3 per cent of Android phone users in Canada had installed the game as of Monday.
The popularity of the game represents a considerable opportunity for advertisers.
One reason is that the rise of ad blockers has sent a message that consumers are pushing back against the unwelcome barrage of digital advertising, and this has pushed advertisers to consider strategies that make their brands part of the entertainment that people want.
In mobile, where screens are small and people's tolerance for interruption is even lower, that's especially important – it's also why advertisers have been drawn to sponsoring filters that alter photos and videos on Snapchat, for instance.
If marketers can find a way into Pokemon Go that is part of the game, without making the app feel ad-cluttered the way the Internet has become, that's a valuable opportunity.
Another huge draw is that the game depends on people looking for the cartoon monsters on sidewalks, in parks and in buildings in their vicinity. Players also look for real-life locations that the game has deemed "Pokestops," where they can gather tools to help them play, and "gyms," where the characters do battle with each other.
All of this depends on access to each player's location data. Location-based advertising has long been a topic of discussion among marketers, but most have struggled with how to avoid creeping people out by sending alerts to their phones about a sale just as they approach a store, for example.
The game could offer a way to do location-based advertising more seamlessly. The head of Niantic, which built the game in partnership with Pokemon Co. (which is partly owned by Nintendo), told the Financial Times on Wednesday that it has plans to sell "sponsored locations" within the app, allowing businesses to "pay us to be locations within the virtual game board – the premise being that it is an inducement that drives foot traffic." Niantic declined a request for an interview or to provide more information on its plans.
Some are already using the game as an unofficial marketing tool.
According to Bloomberg, the manager of L'inizio's Pizza Bar in New York saw food and drink sales rise roughly 30 per cent because of the activity that was located there in the game. Some of that was the luck of becoming an in-game draw thanks to characters and the ability to gather game tools, but the manager also spent money on in-game "lures" to draw more characters to his shop – and therefore more patrons. Other bars and restaurants have put up signs warning that only paying customers are welcome inside to play the game.
On Wednesday, the Tricolore Sports clothing outlet in Montreal's Bell Centre posted a picture on Twitter of a purple monster beside rows of Canadiens jerseys in its store, with the message, "I wonder what kind of Pokemon are in our store. Only one way to find out … #PokemonGO." The Toronto Zoo also took to Twitter, and issued a media release, asking visitors to stay on the zoo's paths and not to cross barriers into enclosures while playing the game. While those concerns persist, the game has been a draw.
"I'm seeing people on site playing. … It is a great opportunity," said Jennifer Tracey, senior director of marketing at the zoo. "We're a not-for-profit, so we have a limited marketing budget. We're always looking for a creative way to attract people."
The zoo is avoiding any explicit advertising until the official Canadian launch, she added.
One real estate ad in Abbotsford, B.C., this week used its convenient location "between two Pokemon Gyms" as a selling point, according to the website Atlas Obscura. (That boast is missing from the ad currentlyhowever.)
Advertisers could also consider using an approach like that of advertising tech company Kiip, founded by Canadian Brian Wong, which partners with games and apps to offer sponsored "rewards" within games. Those can include coupons for free products to encourage sampling.
Because so much of the game depends on players moving around – walking to hatch "eggs" for example, or to find and catch characters – it could be a natural fit for fitness products as well. Vancouver-based mobile app RunGo, which offers audio navigation for running routes, has attempted to piggyback on the popularity of Pokemon Go by plotting routes taking users through Pokemon-heavy areas.
"With something like this, the authenticity of the experience is really important to the people who are playing it," said Wes Wolch, vice-president of content and connection planning at media-buying firm MEC in Toronto. He cautioned that advertisers who want a piece of the action will have to offer something that enhances the game, not just pushes their own message.
Playing Pokemon Go at the Holocaust Museum
The Globe and Mail
KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images
Reality, you've got to admit, is pretty boring. Before the Pokemon Go craze came along and filled the drab natural world with cute little monsters that could be captured by smartphone, there was virtually no good reason for going outside, stumbling across old buildings with zero entertainment value and risking interaction with real people, in the flesh.
But now, at last, in the silly-season Summer of Go, there's a whole, new augmented reality out there that's even better than the view from your living-room console, if you can stomach fresh air. Just download the Pokemon Go app, and let your smartphone GPS lead you to formerly dreary local landmarks where the nostalgic cartoon monsters love to lurk, waiting to be collected.
All those thousands of steps in which you and your smartphone app take so much quiet pride as you move through this slight disappointment called life are no longer an end in themselves but a means to something even better – a true journey of Pikachu-nabbing discovery in which you see a formerly dull planet through newly invigorated eyes.
It's like Fitbit but with added fun, the goofiness of gaming elevated to some nebulously meaningful quest, a structured exercise in mindfulness that makes you pay attention to stuff you'd never got around to noticing before (possibly because you were too busy playing with your phone), like other people, trees and even the Holocaust.
Yes, it's true. Pokemon Go is so potent an instrument of socialization that it's found its way into such traditionally non-fun places as Auschwitz, the Holocaust Museum in Washington and the National War Memorial in St. John's. Oh joy.
It's hard to remember that far-off time, just a few days ago, when people weren't able to combine a solemn occasion of remembrance with the good-natured fun of catching a Krabby. Now, thanks to Pokemon Go, a journey to commemorate the tragedies of history can be turned into an opportunity to grab prizes. Ah, progress.
Then again, maybe history does have something to teach us: Reality isn't meant to be easy and augmented and adorned with friendly cartoon creatures. Pack away Pokemon, look up from your phones and begin to see the wonder of what really is.
With files from The Canadian Press.