Perhaps you’ve seen them. Hordes of people, mostly young, hunched over their phones, stopping in groups in front of random buildings, with an occasional squeal of glee or groan of disappointment.

No, they’re not casing the joint. More likely than not, they’re playing Pokémon Go.

In case you’ve somehow missed this phenomenon, Pokémon Go is a smartphone game, based on the classic Nintendo universe from the 1990s, coupled with Google Maps and the geographic database from a previous game that enables players to capture critters and gain goodies from actual physical locations. Some components, such as hatching eggs, even require the player to walk some distance.

The result is that people are wandering all over the place in their quest to acquire game items. Sometimes they’re wandering places they shouldn’t, such as United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Arlington National Cemetery, and lawsuits are even being filed. Sometimes people are taking advantage of them, like the robbers who hung out by a deserted PokeStop, where players acquire items. On the whole, however, the phenomenon is harmless, if baffling to some.

If you’ve written this off as some sort of “Kids these days” fad, though, you’re missing the point. The Pokémon Go phenomenon offers us some important business lessons as well.

1. Augmented reality is a thing. People have been talking about augmented reality for a while, and though it offers some promise, we now have a demonstration to prove it. One of the game features enables players to see the Pokémon critters in the real environment, and take screenshots of them to share as well.

Okay, you may think that using augmented reality for this purpose is dumb. But if it gets people familiar with the possibilities, does it matter? How many computer programmers started out playing games?

2. Location-based marketing is a thing. Like augmented reality, location-based marketing is something that people have been talking about for a while. But businesses that happen to be by PokeStops are discovering all sorts of new customers walking in their doors. They may not happen to buy anything this trip, but what about the future? Businesses are already being encouraged to leverage this, organizing activities such as neighborhood “meetups” to encourage players to visit.

In addition, businesses can put “lures” on the PokeStops, which not only attract more critters but attract more customers as well. “New York pizzeria L’inizio Pizza Bar enjoyed a 75 percent jump in sales after its manager spent $10 on the Lure Module, which virtually lures a dozen Pokémon to the store for a limited time,” writes Leo Sun in the Motley Fool. “So many restaurants are adopting similar strategies that Yelp recently added a Pokémon Go filter to its search engine.”

The Pokémon Company has already reached an arrangement with McDonald’s to put “gyms,” which players battle to control, in its 3,000 Japanese locations, Sun writes.  Businesses are also offering discounts and Pokémon-themed benefits to players to try to capture the roaming horde.

3. Smartphone security is still an issue. If there’s one thing about the Pokémon Go phenomenon that’s scary (aside from finding a Rattata in your living room at night), it’s how quickly a potential security threat could become widespread. How many people actually thought about whether there might be a security risk with the program? But before IT could say “Pikachu,” it was suddenly on everyone’s smartphone. Within days, it had already surpassed Twitter, Netflix, and Spotify in daily active users, writes Sun.

Which raises the question, should employees be allowed to play it on company resources? An awful lot of them already are, and while some companies are taking it in good fun, researchers are concerned about the game’s security risks.

“44 percent of all organizations have employees who have granted access to Pokémon Go using their corporate credentials,” writes Ian Barker in Betanews. “The app can view, edit, collect or delete anything related to the user’s Google account, send emails, analyze navigation history, and access the user’s data through programmatic API access, as well as collecting personal data alongside geotagging functionality and camera access.”

Admittedly, this was only on the IOS version, which the company attributed to a bug and quickly repaired. But can a zero-day Pokémon exploit be far behind?

“Pokémon Go is a nightmare for companies that want to keep their email and cloud-based information secure,” says Dr. Barbara Rembiesa, CEO of the International Association of IT Asset Managers, which issued a press release on the subject. “Even with the enormous popularity of this gaming app, there are just too many questions and too many risks involved for responsible corporations to allow the game to be used on corporate-owned or BYOD devices.”

Ultimately, though, we have to salute Niantic Labs for developing a smartphone game that isn’t about killing things and blowing things up. Instead, it actually gets people outside, walking around, visiting their community, and interacting with other people. Like the game or not, you have to admit that’s quite an accomplishment.


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