I started to get suspicious when my 14 year old son volunteered to join my wife on her weekly visit to the grocery store. Other than a grunt requesting more milk or peanut butter, he rarely responds to the offer, ‘Want anything at the grocery store?’, let alone an offer to join her on the trek. Turns out that the Safeway parking lot was fertile ground and he wanted to hit the streets to do some Pokemon hunting.
My suspicions continued the next morning when my older son explained how he was hanging out with some friends the night before, when the host of the get-together abruptly left with another friend because there was word of several animated characters roaming the ball fields near the local rec center. In other words, he left a room full of people at his own house in order to be the first one down the street to capture some virtual varmints.
On July 6th, Nintendo released a mobile version of the 20 year old gaming classic Pokemon GO which adds an augmented reality spin allowing players to roam real-life neighborhoods in search of Pokemon game characters. By July 8th, the game was already installed on more than 5 percent of Android devices in the US according to web analytics company SimilarWeb. The game is now on more Android phones than the popular dating app Tinder and is passing Twitter as we speak.
And this is no kid’s game. Since its release, shares of publicly traded Nintendo have soared and the company gained $7.5 billion or 25% in market capitalization in just two days.
Of course, this type of viral success also brings out predators. There is word that a group of criminals in Missouri were apprehended trying to lure unsuspecting Pokemon hunters to an isolated location and then robbing them. And researchers at Proofpoint found versions of the Pokemon GO program that included a remote access tool, or RAT, called Droidjack which can give an attacker full control over a victim’s phone.
It has yet to be determined if Nintendo or its partner Niantic will make any actual money from the game (it is a free download in the app store currently). But in the meantime, happy hunting and as Sargeant Phil Esterhaus on Hills Street Blues used to say to open every show, ‘be careful out there!’