Regardless of whether you like Pokémon Go or not, it's hard to argue with the cultural impact that it has had on both gaming and wider society, and in such a short period of time too. Niantic Labs' game hacked into the power of Google Maps (before transitioning to OpenStreetMap in 2017) and in doing so created an experience that, for a time at least, enchanted pretty much the whole world and did something that no game had ever really managed to do before, at least not to anywhere near the same extent: it got people up off their backsides and sent them out onto the streets.
For a time, Pokémon Go was everywhere and everyone was playing, even if it was just to see what all the fuss was about. It was a news writer's dream come to true, with people literally walking off cliffs as they scoured the countryside for pocket monsters. One of our favourites was the player who took over a gym that just happened to be at the Westboro Baptist Church and then left a Clefairy called Loveislove to defend it. Hell, even to this day we're still getting amusing stories about the game and the way it was received, with a recent report outlining the Canadian military's bemused reaction to a sudden influx of people trespassing on military property as they searched for new Pokémon to capture.
The game itself has been iterated upon since launch and there have been a number of key gameplay innovations made over that time, bringing the game ever closer to fulfiling the vision that originally defined it. PvP was a natural evolution of the game (pardon the pun), but just as important are the updates that have helped to bring players together, and the importance of friend lists, gifting, and trading to the community can't be understated, as cooperation leads to additional synergies that the most engaged players want to take advantage of. We've also seen a steady stream of new and legendary Pokémon added to the game, as well as dynamic weather and new activities in the form of research tasks and raid battles.
Having said all that, the base experience was fairly limited at launch, so it helped that the barrier to entry was low thanks to the game being free-to-play. Of course, you can pay real money for additional resources if you get bitten by the bug, but if you prefer to keep your wallet in your pocket, then you can walk around and collect the resources you need to succeed. The fact that you've never got quite enough Poké Balls to catch everything you want is the driver that gets you up on to your feet and out of the house, and the close proximity of each stop from the next leads to a "just one more stop" mentality.
Pokémon Go was so effective because it linked players to their local and surrounding areas in a way that we've simply never seen before - it got people exploring beyond their comfort zones. Sure, Niantic had already experimented with the idea with Ingress, a game that used satellite positioning and augmented reality via the camera on each player's smartphone, and while that worked to an extent, the concept came into its own when it was fused with the core pillars that have sustained the Pokémon series for some many years. By merging cute collectible characters, dextrous gameplay, and an endless supply of activities, the studio stumbled into a gold mine that has not only proved extremely popular but has also provided us with Harry Potter: Wizards Unite too.
As well as Harry Potter may have done, the success of the game is completely overshadowed by that of Pokémon Go, which still takes in an extraordinary amount of revenue even after three years out in the wild. When trying to unravel why it has proven so enduringly popular, it's hard to look past the fusion of Pokémon and the brilliant way that the game, when viewed through the filter of your mobile device's screen, brings reality and gaming together to create something new and unique. It's that blend, that new perspective on the world, that makes Pokémon Go one of the defining games of the last decade.
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