UBC Streeters: Pokémon Go

We haven’t been able to avoid the hysteria surrounding Pokémon Go. Just outside the doors of Irving K. Barber library, crowds of students with their faces glued to their phones have been gathering around the fountain and under the clock tower. They’re all searching for Pokémon, and apparently the area is swarming with them. 

We talked with some of the students in the crowd about why the area is so popular, how the game works, and if they have any privacy concerns with it. Check out their responses in the video below, and read on to find out more about phenomenon that is Pokémon Go.

The Virtual Phenomenon

Only one week into its launch, and not yet available in Canada, Pokémon Go is officially the most popular mobile game in history. As of Monday, it had 21 million daily active users, had increased Nintendo’s stock by 7.5 billion dollars, and became more popular on the internet than pornography.

But you don’t need statistics to understand the importance of this phenomenon. Wandering herds of people can be seen all around UBC’s Vancouver campus with their eyes glued to their phones in search of Pokémon. One very popular location is the area around the fountain near the clock tower and just outside of Irving K. Barber. Apparently, players are dropping electronic lures that attract a greater number of Pokémon to the area.

The game overlays virtual items and places—like Pokémon, Poké Gyms, and Poké Stops—on real world locations. This blurring of the real and virtual is called augmented reality. Poké Gyms are places where players can battle other teams and win possession of the area, and are often located at churches. There are also Poké Stops, in-game virtual stores where players can purchase Poké Balls and other items in exchange for Poké Coins, which players can earn or purchase with real money.

This kind of virtual customization of real world locations is one of the ways the app is monetizing its popularity. Businesses can set lures and attract players to their stores. For $100 you can purchase 14,500 Poké Coins, and an eight-pack of lures costs 680 Poké Coins, meaning for about $1.19/hour you can have a bunch of people staring at their phones and loitering around your business. Likewise, professors would be wise to drop a few lures in classrooms to increase attendance during the summer months.

The game is currently grossing 1.6 million dollars a day from iOS installations alone. People are spending more time on the app than Facebook, and it’s been downloaded more than Tinder and Twitter.

The Reality of its Success

I went out and spoke with several people playing the game around the fountain. A student reported that he had been there at two that morning and that the crowd had been about the same size of about fifty people. Another person shared a story about how her roommate had called a house meeting to intervene when she considered joining a rival Pokémon team. They resolved their differences and later fought a losing battle against a car full of eight-year-olds, in the rain, at midnight. This scenario should help to clarify the hysteria surrounding Pokémon Go.

The good thing is that people are getting outside and being active and social as the game encourages exploration and interaction. But augmented reality blurs the distinction between online and offline in ways that can also be negative. A teenager in Wyoming discovered a body while searching for Pokémon near a river, and thieves are reportedly taking advantage of the game by luring players into dangerous locations.

The game also makes an overwhelming amount of requests for permissions to access various services on your phone. Niantic, the company that developed the app in partnership with Nintendo and a Google spinoff, has scaled back its permissions since the launch, but still has access to a lot of information that could compromise users’ privacy. Because the game operates with Google Maps and has access to the GPS coordinates of players as they navigate the world, information about where people go and how long they spend there, could be sold to advertisers or worse.

The terms of service also contain a forced arbitration clause that removes users’ rights to file a lawsuit against Niantic, and also prohibits the user from joining any sort of class action lawsuit against the company. This means that if Niantic sold or breached user data, or violated privacy laws in any other way, the only means of arbitration a user could pursue would be through private mediation, which would be both expensive and time consuming, and whatever resolution was resolved, wouldn’t be applicable to other users. You can opt-out from this clause in the terms of service by emailing termsofservice@nianticlabs.com with “Arbitration Opt-out Notice” in the subject line and clearly declaring that you’re opting out of the arbitration clause of Pokémon Go’s terms of service in the body of the email.


One response to “UBC Streeters: Pokémon Go”

  1. Cindy Underhill

    Such a timely post, thanks!

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