In case you don’t know, William Gibson is the prescient science fiction author who effectively coined the terms “the matrix” and “cyberspace” as we currently use them, way back in the early 1980s. He also predicted augmented reality applications. In his 2007 novel, Spook Country, a character has taken to creating “locative art” installations in the real world that can be viewed only through mobile devices that use the GPS grid to create a virtual overlay on top of the real world as recorded through the device. For example, the artist recreates the scene of River Phoenix’s death, complete with annotations, that can be seen when the viewing device is brought to the real-world location where Phoenix died and aimed at the spot where his body was found. A character in the book describes such locative art this way: “Spatially tagged hypermedia. The artist annotating every centimeter of a place, of every physical thing. Visible to all, on devices such as these.” Today, we simply call that “augmented reality”—or AR for short.
Even as the initial furor surrounding the release of developer Niantic’s Pokémon-themed ap has subsided, the issues raised by the mass embrace of the augmented reality-flavored game continue to merit attention from lawmakers, games makers and players alike. Here are a few of the recent stories involving Pikachu, Charizard and company.
According to the official Pokémon website, “kids all over the world have been discovering the enchanting world of Pokémon [for over 15 years].” Not surprisingly, many of us who used to be kids in the 15+ years are playing Pokémon Go, but who would have expected nearly 4 of every 5 Pokémon Go players (almost 80%) to be adults. Put into perspective—at Pokémon Go’s peak of 25 million daily active users, close to 20 million adults may have been playing the location-based augmented reality mobile game every day! Still, that also means at least one out of every five players are children, which in turn represents millions of daily active users against whom one or more provisions of Pokémon Go’s Terms of Service (TOS) might be unenforceable.
We predicted last year that 2016 would be the year of Pokémon. This prophecy came true last week within just two days of the Pokémon Go launch. The location-based augmented reality mobile game/app quickly surpassed Tinder in daily users and neared Twitter’s totals (and as of yesterday, surpassed them), with its users spending twice as much time engaged with Pokémon Go relative to apps like Snapchat. This explosion has helped shares of Nintendo, partial owner of both the Pokémon Company and Niantic (which developed the game), grow over 50% in three trading days since the app’s launch. In the aftermath of the Pokémon takeover, it’s a good time to revisit some of the potential legal implications.