It sounds unlikely right now, but Pokemon Go was actually a April Fool’s joke at birth.
Google had unveiled a ‘Pokemon Challenge’ in 2014 as a promotional video for Google Maps. The challenge invited users to find and capture the cutesy fictional monsters within the application. The feature was active for a short while before it was turned off.
Also working with Google was the CEO of Niantic Labs, John Hanke, took the concept to heart and most of all the company at that point of time was a part of the internet search giant. Niantic had already made a lot of progress with its location-based game Ingress and Hanke’s call to combine it with the world of Pokemon now seems obvious.
Hanke shortly asked Masashi Kawashima, director of Asia Pacific for Niantic, if he could combine both the worlds and role out a real life game. The answer is the release of Pokemon Go two years later.
The game, which takes advantage of the gripping storyline of the cartoon that has already created a generation of fans who are used to playing cards and video games, uses GPS and mapping capabilities in mobile phones to let players roam the real world to find “PokeStops” stocked with supplies and hunt cartoon character monsters to capture and train for battles. PokeStops can also dispense monster eggs, which players incubate by racking up walking distances. Players can also visit “gyms,” where captured cartoon creatures can be conditioned as combatants to seize such training facilities.
Pokemon Go has been downloaded millions of times, topping rankings at official online shops for applications tailored for smartphones powered by Apple or Google-backed Android software. According to the research firm SimilarWeb, the game was downloaded in more than five percent of Android phones in the first two days of release and had outpaced the dating app Tinder.
The game’s exploding popularity has also sent people into bars and pizzerias, led to the discovery of a dead body and may even be helping robbers target victims.
“This is probably the first smartphone game that has spawned a social phenomenon,” said Hideki Yasuda, an analyst at Ace Research Institute in Tokyo told Bloomberg. “The key thing is that this is happening globally. And Nintendo has proven that it can still come out with hits that have broad appeal and can earn money.”
A team of developers from Nintendo, Pokemon Co. (which is partly owned by Nintendo) and Niantic was assembled to build the game. In 2015, Niantic was spun out of Google, backed by funding from Nintendo, Google, Pokemon and other investors, Bloomberg reported.
The project was also supported by Satoru Iwata, Nintendo’s president who died last year. Iwata also played a role behind the augmented reality game as he had always pushed for games that got people out of seats. He was also the head behind the handheld Ninten do DS and motion-based Wii.