Big Data Has Reciprocal Relationship with Pokemon Go

  • 5th August 2016

Few of us will have been able to avoid the AR gaming behemoth that is Pokémon Go, becoming the most downloaded game ever within its first week, surpassing download figures of Twitter and Tinder, and now with over double the session duration time of Facebook. According to SensorTower, there have now been more than 75 million game downloads.

Beyond the numbers, it has sparked a visible change in the behaviour of millions – people becoming more active and going for long walks, getting gamers out of bedrooms, encouraging people to explore their local communities and helping ease the suffering of some mental health problems.

Recent research suggests that the game has already hit peak and is starting to decline in some markets; however it is a fantastic case study for big data.

Big data making Pokémon Go great

Many herald Pokémon Go as the first of its kind, a real-world augmented reality mobile game, however it is actually successor to a game also made by Niantic: Ingress. Combining the lessons learnt from Ingress (15 million suggestions) with the huge popularity of the Pokémon franchise, Niantic have been able to make big data work them.

Pokémon Go combines multiple layers of data to provide an engaging and exciting experience to its users; for instance:

  • Geolocation: the marina next to my office is swamped with water-type Pokémon, for obvious reasons; Pokémon appear mostly in environments that suit their character
  • Time: late at night, the ghost-types and fairy-types are much more prevalent than during the day
  • User-specific information: the higher the level of a player’s avatar has a direct impact on the strength of Pokémon that player will encounter, and as a player levels up they will find all Pokémon become harder to catch (even a CP10 Pidgey…)

Combining this data, and countless other vats of information, allows Pokémon Go to provide a unique experience to each user. Businesses can use this technique to provide accurate and timely location-based messages to customers based on a variety of metrics, including but not limited to demographics, past shopping behaviour and weather conditions.

This was not an easy feat however, particularly given the game’s enormous popularity. Varun Chhabra, Product Marketing lead in EMC’s Advanced Software division notes “The one thing that’s very clear from this is it’s still really hard to build cloud-native apps that scale as fast as the phenomena that has driven this usage. Building a cloud-native app that really handles a large volume of users spread across different geographies, it’s not easy”.

He adds that “most enterprises don’t have to worry about that level of scale, but the lesson to be learned here is you really have to aggregate things as micro services to test them out, and really build some in-house capabilities around micro services and containers, before prime time”.

Pokémon Go making big data great

From a data collection perspective, Pokémon Go, and the infrastructure behind it, has succeeded in logging, in real-time, where millions of real people are, how long they spend there, where they go next. Given that many users sign into Pokémon Go using their Google account (an increasing percentage given the difficulties associated with the Pokémon Trainer Club logins), this location and behavioural information is linked with the wealth of information Google already holds on these people.

This additional information may include basic stats such as name, age and gender, as well as more digital data such as the kinds of websites you visit and how much time you spend online. This combination of information is a very powerful tool indeed. Depending on how vigilant an individual user is with the personal data they allow Google access to, a very detailed profile can be created.

Aside from any data protection issues here, this is a massive marketing research tool. Were this information already available, companies would surely be seeking new and, importantly, highly insightful ways to reach their target market.

Where Pokémon Go made a massive dent was augmented reality, which so far hadn’t been successful in reaching mainstream popularity. Companies like Facebook and Sony have been slowly moving towards virtual reality for years now, while Niantic blazed past them and delivered AR to the millions. Businesses will see Pokémon Go as the successful ‘toe in the pool’ of big data mixed with AR, likely leading to a collection of corporate cannonballs in the not too distant future.

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