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Does 'Pokemon Go' pave the way for more augmented reality games?

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A woman holds up her cell phone as she plays the Pokemon Go game in Lafayette Park in front of the White House in Washington, D.C., July 12, 2016.
Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
A woman holds up her cell phone as she plays the Pokemon Go game in Lafayette Park in front of the White House.

Nintendo's franchise has been revived with a smart phone-based app that uses Google Maps to give users a gaming experience that gets them out of the house.

Over the past week, you've probably heard more than a little bit about Pokemon Go. The mobile game app has revived the Nintendo franchise and taken the country by storm.

The big entertainment experience of 2016 was supposed to be virtual reality. But now we have augmented reality. And that’s what Pokemon Go is. The video game from the 1990s, which also spawned a TV show, is now a free app on your smartphone that acts like an interactive map. You go outside and walk around, looking for hidden Pokemon characters.

The map itself is a replica of your actual surroundings — think Google Maps but populated with Pokemon, which is short for Pocket Monsters. And the game reportedly has people out exploring their cities and neighborhoods like never before.

The Frame host Joh Horn spoke with Janko Roettgers, senior Silicon Valley correspondent for Variety, about the new Pokemon phenomenon.

Interview Highlights:

The company behind Pokemon Go, Niantic Labs, has made other augmented reality games such as Field Trip, which is an app that notifies users of historical monuments and other interesting things while walking through a city. But it hasn’t had Pokemon Go kind of success. What is it about this game that's making it a hit?

I think it's a little bit of a perfect storm. It took a very popular franchise and combined it with a gameplay element. Everybody already carries their phone around these days and we all are used to using it for looking up locations. We use maps all the time to get around. Combining this with gameplay and getting people out and letting them explore their neighborhoods while they're playing is the perfect combination, in a way.

I guess the fundamental difference between augmented reality and virtual reality is the premise. A virtual reality brings a real life experience to you. With augmented reality, like Pokemon Go, the user is actually going into reality and stepping outside and leaving his/her living room. 

Well, it depends really on how you use it. What's interesting about this is it really gets you out and challenges you to walk a couple of kilometers or miles before certain things happen within the game. It's more of a real world experience, which I think makes this really interesting and really unique.

It feels like this is going to lead to people wandering into the middle of traffic while they're looking at their phones. Is there a potential problem with people going to so many locations and having some sort of accident?

It could happen. People text all the time and walk into traffic lights or what not. They bump into things. It's already happening in a way. This may make this worse, but the companies behind it — Niantec, Nintendo and the Pokemon Company — have thought about this as well. What they're going to do in the next couple of weeks is they actually are going to release this dongle or keychain kind of thing. It's a little object that is connected to your phone via Bluetooth so you don't have to stare at your phone the whole time. Instead, this is going to give you an alert when you come upon a Pokemon, or come upon one of these locations that helps you to unlock certain things in your phone, with the thought of making this a little bit more of a natural experience and not have people bump into each other all the time.

A lot of people are paying attention to this and, I suspect, a lot of those people are also in venture capital. In terms of what Silicon Valley is probably doing going forward, do you think it will change a little bit of the focus away from virtual reality toward augmented reality? Are there going to be more applications like this? What's your takeaway in terms of what happens next?

I think there's definitely going to be more like this in the future. Especially in Silicon Valley, people are always nervous and fickle, so when something new comes on, everybody wants to be part of it — even only to make some headlines and send a press release out to say, We're doing augmented reality now as well. I assume you're going to see a lot of that in the future. Not everything is going to be good, but there's definitely some fire behind this so people are going to jump onto this train.

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