Remember the halcyon days when Pokémon GO was going to cure obesity? Or when Niantic’s augmented reality game was just another term for going outside—so much so that a Google Chrome to that effect was readily available? To think those days were just weeks ago…
Pokémon GO is now out in Japan, and with it comes the news that all McDonald’s franchises in the nation have paid to be recognized as “gyms” of sorts. Nominally, this is a sponsorship. But let’s call it what it is: McDonald’s gave Niantic money to have its locations recognized in the game.
Fine. I guess.
This, in theory, is good news for business. In New York City, for instance, L’Inizio Pizza saw a 75 percent spike in business after paying $10 to lure the game’s characters to the store. This is the definition of a good investment. McDonald’s Japan is just applying that model at scale, 3,000 times over. In functional terms, this is not all that different from luring people to stores with treats for children or movie tie-ins. If anything, it may be a bit cheaper because you don’t actually have to pay for physical objects to hand out.
shift the game’s map of cities in favor of commerce
All of this is pretty anodyne, with the exception of what it is says about the Pokémon GO approach to mapping. When the game first came out, users noted that locations of interest were concentrated in white, affluent areas. This is what happens when you augment on the reality of redlining and a history of residential segregation. The solution to this problem was to let users submit potential venues. The other options—paying Niantic or buying some other type of lure—gradually shift the game’s map of cities in favor of commerce. All these influences—the game’s base mapping, user-submitted venues, places like McDonald’s Japan—are being worked out in real time. It is entirely possible that the map ends up being tilted too far in one direction, but the process is nonetheless interesting.