Pokemon Go, Ingress and the importance of storytelling

The importance of storytelling in augmented reality. The intimate relationship with usability.

If you haven’t heard about the frenzy around the latest Nintendo game, Pokemon GO, then I’m afraid you’re isolated. Here’s a video to catch up with what’s been going on.

The phenomena is simply astounding. Hordes of persons running around parks trying to catch Pokemons.
The most interesting story behind this success, although, is that the technology for this game existed way before this hit.


Have you heard about Ingress? In 2012, Google launched this Augmented Reality videogame, first exclusively for Android devices, and later available for iOS in 2014.
The game presents two opposing factions, and the purpose of the game is make your factoin win by capturing “portals” at places of cultural importance, i.e. landmarks and monuments.
The game grew an important fanbase, but as you might imagined it didn’t boom like Pokemon Go.
Before Ingress, an older and now defunct AG game, called Shadow Cities, presented a similar story of two factions fighting for the future of the world.
For me, Ingress was a beautiful game, since it was truly innovative in its gameplay, making a very interesting use of the environment and the technical capabilities of smartphones. Sadly, the story wasn’t catchy enough to create more traction and desire to play.

Pokemon Go

The Nintendo game is based in a platform that has a lot of common with Ingress. The gameplay and the relationship with landmarks and environments is pretty much an evolution of the previous. But in my opinion, the main reason why the game became such a boom (besides the gameplay) is the whole story already built around the game. A story already loved and well know around the elements of the gameplay, that made a smooth transition to becoming the protagonist of an already well-known story.

Playable vs memorable

During 2011 I worked as a Lead Designer for the creation of a web MMORPG in AREA Science Park, named Evoora . During my time in that project I kept trying to insist on the creation of a vast and coherent story to support the gameplay, since it is the story that makes the rules, characters and overall experience of the game memorable. Of course the gameplay make the game “addictive”, but without a culture around a game, it is easy to become just a set of rules.
My suggestions weren’t a priority to the CEO, and sadly, the project was sold and then became an abandonware, since the technology advanced and the videogames became more and more mobile.
This is an interesting case study, since once the platform became obsolete, the whole game died. The good and important thing about storylines is that they don’t have such a fast “due date”, and they can be tweaked and adapted to technological breakthroughs. This is the case with Pokemon Go, who is giving a second life to Nintendo. In only two weeks their stocks doubled.

It’s easy for investors to neglect the importance of creating a culture and binding it strongly with the value of a product, but in the long run, it is that intimate relationship that can make or break a company.

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