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CITY TALK: Following Pokemon Go’s evolution

After the introduction of Pokemon Go in summer 2016, I wrote a column about the ways in which the augmented reality game might impact local residents’ and visitors’ interactions with Savannah’s built environment.

What have we learned in the last six months?

Not surprisingly, many players who downloaded Pokemon Go at its launch have quit the game. The breakneck pace of the early days was unsustainable.

But, with the release last week of “Generation 2” of the virtual monsters, there has been a fresh surge of interest. In just six months of 2016, the game reportedly earned $950 million for its creator Niantic Labs, and it seems like the game can vault back to the top of the revenue charts whenever new content appears.

In recent months, Niantic has announced several significant sponsorship deals, including with Starbucks. Most Starbucks locations across the U.S. now serve as either stops or gyms in the game.

Pokemon Go generally works best in walkable places with prominent public spaces and notable buildings, so Savannah’s older neighborhoods are perfect. The most active local Facebook group for Pokemon Go has grown to almost 2,000 members, and there are hundreds of players in smaller team groups.

I got hooked on the game last summer, so I can attest to a decline in players as the game stagnated in late 2016. Still, there is little doubt that this game and future ones like it have the ability to lure residents into spending much more time in the public realm – sitting in squares, wandering along the riverfront, exploring different neighborhoods.

I see tourists playing Pokemon Go nearly every time I walk through Forsyth Park or the Landmark Historic District. Some are catching creatures as they walk, and many pause to battle at the virtual gyms, especially along the Bull Street corridor or River Street.

In the local Facebook group, there are periodic questions from prospective tourists about the state of the game in Savannah. While in New Orleans for Christmas, I looked for information about the game and subsequently spent part of an afternoon exploring City Park.

In November, a special Pokemon Go event lured tourists from around the world to the area of Japan that had been ravaged by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Given the success of Pokemon Go, we will likely see many games and educational apps that influence the choices of tourists and subtly change the landscape of the city, but I don’t have a good guess about the ultimate magnitude of the changes.

City Talk appears every Sunday and Tuesday. Bill Dawers can be reached via billdawers@comcast.net. Send mail to 10 E. 32nd St., Savannah, GA 31401.

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