Let the Gaming Begin: Augmented Reality and Its Creepy Implications

Wanna hear something kind of insane?

Though the term “gamification” is a little over a decade old, the concept has been around for nearly 40 years.

Put simply, gaming is based on interactivity and therefore represents a higher level of engagement than other types of formal learning. So, of course marketers have committed themselves to figuring out ways to tie gaming to business promotion. In order to play a game, more energy (both physical and emotional) is required to consume it than it takes to passively watch an ad or speed-read a blog post. By now, there are oodles of studies showing the links between gaming and improved cognition and coordination.

So, marketers have always been on board. The only thing they needed in order to dive into gamification was a way to justify its use. They couldn’t just release Subway: the Video Game and expect sub sandwich sales to skyrocket. (Or maybe they could.)

It all kind of started with American Airlines

— but not with an app or a computer game. It was simply one of the first loyalty rewards programs, using a points system for returning customers to claim prizes. And it wasn’t complicated — it utilized the most basic form of operant conditioning: positive reinforcement.

Fast forward to today.

Business are positively-reinforcing their customers and employees more than ever. Gaming is now a big part of public education, corporate training, and health/fitness initiatives. And then there’s Pokémon Go!

Never before has there been a game so interactive that it can literally move people around town. Pokémon Go!, completely on its own, has the power to make a person leave their house and travel straight to the front door of your business. In business terms, that kind of power is beyond valuable. The game was released two months ago, and businesses have already found rudimentary ways to use the augmented-reality platform to attract folks to their locations.

Right now there’s only one Pokémon Go! A few years ago, Google Glass tried and failed to make a significant move towards putting AR into the mainstream. But Pokémon Go! proved that AR does have a chance to be the next big thing — it’ll just take the right big thing. The world simply wasn’t ready to just start using an AR facial device like Glass. But to be fair to the world, Google’s product probably wasn’t quite ready for the spotlight. It wasn’t long before Apple stood over the ashes of Google Glass, waving the Apple Watch around, saying, “Told you! Baby steps!”

AR does have a chance to be the next big thing — it’ll just take the right big thing.

Apple may have taken the AR out of the wearable, but Pokémon Go! proved that AR still has mainstream potential. Google was trying to bridge too big a gap by introducing a product that was both wearable and AR-centric, while the two things really just need more time to develop individually to reach their best combined potential. That product is still yet to come, but I believe it eventually will. By the time it does, there will already be dozens of popular AR games for handhelds and watches, whose users will be waiting anxiously for the right wearable headset.

Now, imagine a world with dozens of popular AR games designed for different types of people. You know those smug folks who make fun of Pokémon players? There’ll be games for them. Forget about the Pokémons. Maybe it’ll be a game about collecting AR coffee beans. Imagine Coffee Bean Go! becoming a huge hit. How many coffee shops would pay money to be a coffee bean location on Coffee Bean Go!?


In short, the mainstream success of AR technology via Pokémon Go! is making businesses and marketers pay attention. When you’re running a business, and you hear about a smartphone app that can physically bring people to you… you find out how.

And as you do, you realize: this isn’t really about Pokémon at all. It’s about using the power of games and interactivity to move people towards you. As businesses figure out how to better use gamification and AR in marketing, they’ll be able to sort of create these targeted magnetic fields, pulling people in, and with a purpose. Ideally, we’d all just love a drone skyhook scenario that could pick people up and fly them directly to your business.

Right now, Pokémon Go! might be the closest thing we have.

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