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Bulbasaur, Weedle, and Pikachu, Oh My!

July 14, 2016 | Karen Kazmierczak

By now you’ve likely seen, heard about, or started playing the latest mobile gaming craze, Pokémon Go. Based on the Pokémon cartoon and video game franchise that has been around since the late 90s, the latest version of this game is played on smartphones. The game is completely GPS and map-based, and has an augmented reality (AR) component. Players must physically be present in certain real-world locations to capture Pokémon, get items needed to play the game from “Pokéstops”, and battle other players for control of “Gyms” on behalf of their chosen team. Bloomberg has a brief primer on how the game works.

The rate at which smartphone users have downloaded and are using Pokémon Go is striking. The app is about to surpass the percentage of daily active users enjoyed by huge social media apps like Twitter. Areas with large numbers of Pokémon, Pokéstops, and Gyms are seeing significant increases in foot traffic from people playing the game. The location-based nature of the game is a potential boon to retailers and other small businesses. It also can cause real headaches for property and facility managers.

Using Pokémon Go to Your (or Your Tenants’) Advantage

If you manage retail properties or other public facilities like libraries and museums, there are ways you or your tenants may capitalize on this trend to attract customers.

Pokemon sign 

Image source:

  1. If Pokémon tend to appear on your property, you can post screenshots on social media to entice new people to visit, and install signage to encourage those already in the area to come inside.
  2. Is there a Pokéstop at your property? Users can purchase “lures” in the game, which when placed on a Pokéstop attract more Pokémon to the area for 30 minutes. Players seek out active lures to maximize their success in the game. Purchasing lures (especially used in conjunction with social media) can significantly increase foot traffic. Retailers are already jumping on this tactic and seeing results.
  3. If there is a Gym at your property, users will have to visit in order to battle each other in the game and gain control of the Gym for their team. Businesses can advertise the fact that there is a Pokémon Gym at their location, and even offer specials for players who are in the area to play.
  4. In the future, sponsored locations may be coming to Pokémon Go.
  5. Consider effects beyond this particular game. Is Pokémon Go just a fad? Maybe. But as points out, “Even if Pokémon Go isn't as powerful a tool for driving sales six months or a year from now, the customers that you delight today are going to remember you tomorrow.”

Protecting Your Property and the People On It

Whether or not businesses choose to use the game to attract players, property managers must be aware of the potential for problems the game may cause at their properties. Some of these suggestions are general safety issues managers should always be aware of, but location-based games of this sort can highlight issues that previously were neglected. Here are a few things property and facility managers should keep in mind.

  1. Players may wander into surprising areas in search of Pokémon, which are not necessarily found along sidewalks or paths. If you have unsecured or broken fences or other barriers intended to keep the public out of private or unsafe areas, consider securing them.
  2. Despite in-game warnings about paying attention to your surroundings, players may have their heads down looking at their devices while walking. Some players are getting hurt because they are walking around without looking. In public areas, look for trip/fall hazards (even off paths or sidewalks) and fix or clearly mark them.
  3. If your property or facility is the location of a Pokéstop or Gym, there may be unusual numbers of people coming by in cars or by foot, at all hours of the day or night. Decide whether you would prefer that players leave, or if you will allow them to play as long as they are respectful and safe, and communicate this with your security staff. Communicate with tenants or residents, if necessary, who may not be aware of the reason behind the increased traffic.
  4. If your property or facility is an unsafe or inappropriate location to play the game, you may need to create signage asking players to go elsewhere. The game’s developers allow you to report a Pokéstop or Gym location with a selection for “Dangerous Pokéstop or Gym” with this web form. No information is currently available about how long it will take for game developers to respond, but the sooner you report an inappropriate game location the sooner it may be removed.

Almost everyone today has an all-in-one personal camera, GPS locator, communicator, and game device in their pocket. Augmented reality is a hot topic in the tech world, and more games and other applications are going to continue to emerge to leverage this technology. We can debate whether it is even legal, but chances are, location-based games and apps are here to stay. Property managers should make sure they are prepared to take advantages of opportunities and mitigate potential risks as the virtual world interacts with real estate and real life.

About the Author
Karen Kazmierczak is the Digital Strategist at IREM headquarters. She oversees IREM's digital communications and marketing, including the website, social media, and blog. She is also currently a Level 9 Pokémon trainer, her favorite Pokémon is Eevee, and she battles for Team Mystic.

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