Pokémon Go, the augmented reality-infused Pokémon app for iPhone and Android phones, launched last week and has already seen millions of of eager pokémon trainers taking to the streets to try to catch ‘em all. How can charities and non-profits get involved in this latest gaming phenomenon?
Although only available in the United States, Australia, and New Zealand at launch, Ninantic – the company behind the app – is rolling out Pokemon Go to other regions in the near future and it’s now available in the UK and Germany.
Ad agencies are already scrambling to form Pokémon Go strategies for clients, so it can only be a matter of time before we see businesses using the game as a way of engaging with customers.
The app also has the potential to be a fantastic way to get people engaged with your charity or non-profit.
Although it’s very early days for the game and there are only a few example of how charities are engaging with players, we’re excited about the idea of a range of ways for nonprofits to use Pokémon Go as part of their engagement strategies.
Read on for a guide of what Pokémon go is, how it works and how charities have already started engaging players.
How does Pokémon Go Work?
Here’s a quick run down of how Pokémon Go works so you can at least have an idea of what the game is all about before you talk to colleagues about the potential opportunities.
Catching pokémon works like a traditional pokémon game that was first found on Nintendo’s Game Boy handheld console in the ’90s, but taps into augmented-reality to add a real world dimension to the game.
Players walk around with the app open on your phone (which is why you might see even more people staring at their phones as they walk than usual).
The player’s phone will buzz when pokémon are nearby. They then tap on the pokémon on the map and switch to catching mode. The colour of the ring surrounding the pokémon helps determine how easy it is to catch — green is easiest, yellow intermediate, and red the most difficult.
Different pokémon are found in different places — so while one location might be infested with Zubats, which are easy to catch, going further afield may result in different or rarer pokémon, which are much harder to catch and require more experience gained through playing the game.
Take a look at this article on The Verge for a more in-depth understanding of Pokémon Go..
What are Pokéstops, Gyms and Lures?
Pokéstops and Gyms represent the best opportunity for charities and nonprofits to engage with players, as these are places that players will go out of their way to visit as part of playing the game. Here’s how they work.
Pokéstops and Gyms are usually found at important local landmarks, marked on the game’s map at significant locations.
When a player is close enough to a Pokéstop to activate it, the map icon will expand into a spinning pokéballs icon, allowing them to tap on it to obtain items, such as pokéballs, potions, revives, and eggs (which can be hatched by walking around).
Visiting Pokéstops is the primary way for players of getting items, which is why players will go out of their way while playing the game to visit those locations.
Gyms are similar to Pokéstops in that they are based at significant local landmarks, but they are used by players to battle other players and gain experience for their Pokémon.
So Pokéstops and Gyms are basically visitor magnets, ideal for anyone looking to drive footfall to a certain location.
For example, if your charity operates a retail space or you’re a cultural institution looking to drive more visitors, creating a Pokéstop or Gym at that location will naturally attract Pokémon Go Players.
Lures are also worth knowing about, as they are an in-game device that attracts Pokémon to a Pokéstop location for 30 minutes. This also attracts other people to the area to benefit from the effect, which is why you get lots of people in the same area simultaneously – all catching the same monsters.
This has brought many players together, and there are heart-warming stories of people meeting each other to go on adventures. But some players have also seen a darker side, using lures to attract players – some vulnerable people, many with expensive smartphones – off the beaten track.
For example, four teenage robbers were arrested after using Pokémon Go to “anticipate the location and level of seclusion of unwitting victims”, as reported by The Guardian.
How do I create a Pokéstop or Gym location?
Unfortunately, there’s no current way for anyone to create a Pokéstop according to this Quora thread.
However, Niantic are working with businesses so they can buy Pokéstops/pokémon to be made available at their locations.
Niantic Chief Executive John Hanke told the Financial Times that “sponsored locations,” where companies would pay to become locations in the virtual world in order to drive foot traffic, will be coming to the game.
For example, businesses can sponsor a Pokéstop so players as only being able to find a particular rare pokémon in that store in that city, or having a Pokéstop with exclusive items at their location.
This used to be a feature in Niantic’s game “Ingress”, but it got disabled when requests started to be too much to handle. If Niantic re-releases this feature in Pokémon Go in the future, you’ll be able to create a Pokéstop.
We may even see Niantic work with brands as a CSR opportunity, which may be a viable way for charities to create their own Pokestop location.
How can charities and nonprofits engage with Pokémon Go players?
Even though you can’t create your own Pokéstop or Gym at this time, that doesn’t mean you can’t engage with Pokémon Go players now.
For example, some local businesses that lucky enough to be near a key location have already latched on to the potential of the game:
- The New York Post found on one New York pizzeria who dropped a lure in the game for $10 to attract trainers to its players. Business spiked 75%.
- A Brooklyn bar noted that the Pokémon inside were for paying customers only, according to Bloomberg.
Beth Kanter has found a few examples of nonprofits using the game:
- As a form of newsjacking, discovering that the nonprofit’s office or program location is a Pokémon stop and snap a photo for social media
- Using the to lure visitors to their location, such as museums, gardens, and parks:
- An LGBTQ activist is using the app in an interesting way:
If you are a gallery, museum, cultural venue or operate a charity shop, then you should check if your location is near an existing Pokéstop or Gym. You could then advertise the fact at your venue, and on your social media, to encourage players to visit you while they are in the area.
If there are particularly rare pokémon or items available at your charity’s location, why not leave a (secure) donation box in the area with a special sign asking players to make a donation in return for getting the items and pokémon?
Pokémon Go can also be used as the focus of for community outreach event, particularly those aimed at young people. If your charity has Pokéstops at your location or nearby, you could advertise the fact and encourage players to visit. Once players are done collecting items at your Pokéstop, you could encourage them to engage with your charity’s services while they’re there.
You don’t even need to wait for players to visit you, as you could go to where the players are likely to gather. For example, you can also pay a visit to local Pokéstops that are known for being where large amounts of players gather. With appropriate relevance and planning, so as not to be seen as manipulating the game, community engagement officers could visit the location and chat to players.
What about privacy issues?
It’s not all good news though. For example, a US Holocaust museum asks Pokémon Go players to stop visiting their location.
Some people have also raised concerns about the app’s safety, including the chief executive of children’s charity NSPCC who warned that adults could use it to prey on children.
“It’s deeply troubling that the app’s owners have ignored many warning signals and well documented child safety concerns. It would have been better if they had taken time to reflect on these and put their young users first.”
They identified several risks for children who play the game:
- Meeting people they don’t know face-to-face: The game is designed to bring people together. Usually strangers. So you never know who they might meet.
- There’s a physical risk: It’s easy to forget to look where you’re going with this game, but they need to be careful of where they end up. There are already stories of people being lured to places that aren’t safe for children.
- It can cost a lot of money: There are in-app purchases and other incentives which can cost up to $159.99AUD (14,500 Pokécoins). Make sure the app’s set up without payment options.
- Access to personal data: Pokémon Go asks for personal information like your child’s birth date and email address, which they’re asked to enter or receive through social media accounts. Parents have the right to contact the creators to stop them from using their personal information.
Read the full NSPCC parent’s guide for tips and advice on how children can stay safe when playing Pokemon Go.
Can your charity offer a similar guide for other potentially vulnerable groups?
How is your charity engaging with Pokemon Go players?
These are just a few ideas, but we’re sure you could think of a few more ways that your charity could engage with Pokémon Go players.
How is your charity engaging with Pokémon Go? What other examples have you spotted? Have you developed, or are developing an augmented reality or virtual reality strategy?