It pexels-photo-27276looks like virtual reality (VR) has found its killer app, and it’s not VR at all.

Pokémon Go is an augmented reality (AR) application that has exploded in popularity since its recent release. AR differs from VR in that it offers a live view of the physical environment augmented by a digital overlay.  The game is based on a Nintendo Game Boy game that dates back to 1995. The object is to capture and train a variety of creatures called Pokémon. Pokémon Go takes the gameplay off the computer and into the world. The app uses a map of the player’s actual location and adds digital landmarks to which the player can travel in order to engage in gameplay. As players move within their real world surroundings, their avatar moves within the game’s map. At certain points in the game, players can switch out of map mode to view the digital characters in AR mode, using their phone’s camera and gyroscope to display an image of a Pokémon as though it were in the real world.

Although VR has been getting a lot a buzz, it hasn’t yet broken out. The success of Pokémon Go may be a signal that developers should be shifting their focus, at least for the short term. A great deal of the game’s success is no doubt due to the developer’s creative reimagining of a beloved classic, but it also says something about the market. VR is an immersive experience. At its most advanced, viewers wear goggles that shut off the outside world completely. AR offers the excitement of participation in a digital universe, while also permitting social interaction. Users can also experience AR using only their cell phones, with no other equipment required.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the popularity of Pokémon Go has raised some interesting legal issues. We’ll be posting on some of those over the next week.