UPDATE: Now, after release, I can say that one part of my prediction was correct: The game is a big hit. Niantic actually did add augmented reality content to the game. Whenever you catch a Pokémon they use a simple 3d-model + camera background for it. The Pokémon is not 100% registered in the environment though. Basic, but still augmented reality.
Let’s look at the mind-blowing trailer:
I have seen several of such trailers in the last decade. Every time a company develops a new augmented reality headset, they present it like this. Those glasses then either never make it to the market, or are unable to do augmented reality.
In order for something to be classified as augmented reality it needs to meet these criteria [Azuma, Ronald T. “A survey of augmented reality.” Presence 6.4 (1997): 355-385.]:
1. Combines real and virtual
2. Is interactive in real time
3. Is registered in three dimensions
Most ‘augmented reality’ applications fail the last criteria. Instead they use location-based technology like GPS and a 2D map. Niantic Labs already misadvertised their (hugely successful) Ingress as augmented reality in a similar video.
I am sure the game will be fun, and it will attract a large audience. I just don’t think it is appropriate to advertise it like this. There will not be giant Pokémon hiding behind corners, running over bridges, and have fierce battles on market squares. Instead, it will show you a map, and you will see 2D Pokémon. Maybe they will be 3D, but they will not be registered in the real world. But just be on a map. Again, nothing wrong with that, but not augmented reality.
The press conference itself does not really tell us anything about the actual game play though. They describe the basic gameplay: Go out and find a Pikachu hiding near the Eiffel Tower, then battle other players. And then main designer Junichi Masuda states: “So, of course, in Pokémon Go, that sounds like it is a simple gameplay, but we are also working to create a lot of depth, so the game can be enjoyed by players of a wide range of ages.”
I guess we need to wait until the game is closer to release what ‘depth’ means.
In general I’m curious to see how they will manage the ‘spread’ of the Pokémon. How common will they be to find? Do you actually have to travel to another city or even country? If population is too sparse, then players will be put off because it’s too hard to grow your collection. If they are too easy to get by, what’s the point of the location-based aspect of the game?
However, I am much more positive about what Nintendo is doing in the project: Pokémon Go Plus. This is a badge (that you can also wear as a wristband). It connects to your phone, and if you are near a Pokémon it alerts you, and you can press it to interact with the creature (or at least ‘catch’ it).
This is interesting as it:
1) is more convenient than always having to pull out your phone
2) makes it easier to spot other players (to make friends and enemies)
3) adds another revenue stream for the game
They were also demoing on the stage and talked about the technical details: Bluetooth connection, LED, vibration alarm. Nintendo seems to understand what is important: Simplicity. And they also see it as a playful device that actually helps you to roleplay. Or enables a child to play with the Plus while it is connected to their parent’s smartphone.
The Nintendo part of the press conference starts at 21:45.