The Winners and Losers of the Great Pokemon Go Content Phenomenon

Marc Snitzer
July 15, 2016

Pokemon Go, baby.

Mobile developer Niantic’s augmented-reality game, in which users encounter and catch the franchise’s original 151 pocket monsters, from Abra to Zubat, IRL, has only been available for little over a week, but that hasn’t stopped it from becoming a bonafide overnight sensation.

As the now decades-old franchise once again exploded in popularity, like a Squirtle evolving into a Wartortle, it’s been fascinating to experience Pokemon Go’s ability to unite the world.

In just a few hours, the vast majority of our shared social media spaces have synced, creating a dominant conversation usually reserved for breaking news or (transparently engineered) bizarre phenomena. Pokemon Go has evolved into a full-on Blastoise of a trending social media topic. 

It’s easy to understand why. Democratizing an otherwise slightly niche product, free of charge, is a surefire way to ignite the kind of fandom flames that fueled Pokemon’s initial ubiquity in the late 1990s. Pokemon Go is for everyone, but it’s speaking directly to the hearts of those who fell in love with Pokemon back in the day, who are now extremely literate in modern digital communication.

And like the Pokemon we work so hard to catch, I rounded up the winners and losers of this moment in cultural zeitgeist in an effort to examine what we can learn from the present state of digital content. When it comes to joining in on Pokemania on the internet, who’s made it to the Elite Four, and who’s stuck in Pallet Town? Let’s find out.

Winner: Local businesses

Pokemon Go’s PokeStops, which manifest in real-world locations, have attracted trainers far and wide to civic features, landmarks and especially small businesses. Via PhillyVoice: “These people had never stopped by, or even knew we existed, but they had some coffee, chilled and enjoyed,” says W/N W/N bartender Reddy Cypress. ”It’s fun to see more people come into our neighborhood.”

Related winners: all news outlets in general. Plug in some Pokemon Go-related stories and boom, instant web traffic.

Winners/Losers: Aspiring Entrepreneurs

Image via The Creators Project/Casey Halter

New Yorker Ivy St. Ivye became a “viral sensation” when she began offering her services as a professional Pokemon Go trainer. For $20 an hour, she will help you catch Pokemon by having access to your game log-in details. However, this practice is against Niantic’s terms and conditions and can be considered illegal, so Ivye will have to settle for the 15 minutes of social media fame she gained.

However, as Philly reports, this enterprising man has been successfully chauffeuring trainers via automobile for a profit. Gotta catch that skrilla somehow.

Losers: Facebook and Twitter

TechCrunch reports that Pokemon Go’s daily users have overtaken Twitter’s and the app has seen more engagement than Facebook in the past week. Life is hard. 

Loser(?): The Associated Press, with this tweet

Winner/Loser: McDonalds/Us

If this report is true, a partnership in which all McDonalds locations become Gyms is upon us. After a testing period in Japan, Soon, our social feeds will be augmented by Big Macs as well as Poliwags.

Winners: Meme lords

Above all else, Pokemon Go has proven itself to be a wellspring for some of the freshest, dankest memes. To become crystallized in the cultural landscape through memefication is the ultimate red flag of viral success.

The Biggest Winner of Them All: Nintendo

Um. Nice. Soak that all in for a minute.

Related winners: Apple, Google and Niantic.

But what’s worth noting is that Pokemon Go’s inherent success is just one contributing factor to Nintendo’s massive stock value increase. Every third-party component outside of the game’s own intrinsic qualities: blog, article, tweet, meme, hashtag, mention and miscellaneous piece of content, each individual piece is what ultimately creates the snowball effect of virality.

When your product is so monumental that the overall social media conversation completely shifts gears to accommodate it, some weird cyclical exposure where everyone left in its wake becomes a winner. It’s almost as if Nintendo and Niantic were highly aware of the reception Pokemon Go would receive on social media.

So congrats, Pokemon Go. You’re a real winner here. What’s the over/under until we, the internet move on to something new? I give it a month.