Cathie Anderson

Sacramento engineer’s addiction to ‘Pokémon Go’ breeds hot new website

Michael Young, dressed as Pokémon character Ash Ketchum, plays “Pokémon Go” in Springfield, Mo. on Friday, July 15, 2016.
Michael Young, dressed as Pokémon character Ash Ketchum, plays “Pokémon Go” in Springfield, Mo. on Friday, July 15, 2016. AP

Given that only a four-man team powers Sacramento-based technology startup OpenRide, it’s pretty difficult for the engineering guy to hide that he’s been struck by “Pokémon Go” fever. So, Owen Scott just copped to it.

His teammates could have tried dousing Scott with cold water, but they didn’t. Instead, they asked: Was there a way to connect Scott’s addiction with their primary mission of helping people find ways to get to places they want to go?

On July 13, the OpenRide team introduced Pokemapper.co, a crowd-sourced site where people who play the game can share where they have discovered Pokémon creatures. Within a week, the site had amassed roughly 1 million unique visitors from around the world.

The “Pokémon Go“ craze is slowly going global as the game’s creator, Niantic, introduces it in one country after another. The augmented-reality application debuted in the United States on July 7. You may have seen players walking around town, holding their cellphones in front of them, gazing at the screen in such utter thrall that they don’t know what’s going on around them. They are hunting for virtual “Pokémon Go” creatures, eggs that will birth them, tools to capture them and so on.

And while the rest of the world passes by completely oblivious to these creatures, “Pokémon Go” players see Sandshrews aplenty lurking on the streets of Old Sacramento or a single ghostly Gastly haunting Roosevelt Park in the evening.

They’re all right there on the map in their mobile game app, and if players have the right tools they can capture them, train them and use them to do battle with other Pokémon monsters. And, with every capture, players gain status as a trainer and their creatures evolve into more powerful Pokémon.

OpenRide’s Jonah Bliss, the startup’s director of community, acknowledged that Scott isn’t the only employee who’s playing the game, but it was his fascination that inspired the team to come up with a way of allowing players worldwide to get a look at what Pokémon monsters were popping up in different places. In the game, you see, players see only the Pokémon creatures within a few blocks. At pokemapper.co, players can post where they have found different Pokémon creatures so other players can then find them.

“We have particular skill sets around mapping and location data, so we started talking about what people out there were missing,” Bliss said. “And nothing like this existed. We said, ‘OK, let’s whip up this little project.’... It was basically a lark, and it’s become a huge success. More people have looked at our Pokemapper than have been on our OpenRide website.”

OpenRide, by the way, provides a way for people to share long rides to distant locales. If you want to go to Los Angeles from Sacramento, for instance, you can go to the website, openride.co, and look for drivers planning a trip in that direction. If your schedules align, then you can discuss the fee and pay the driver – all at the website. OpenRide collects a flat fee for facilitating the transaction and for checking out all drivers, Bliss said.

It was founded in 2015, but it hasn’t generated nearly the same buzz yet as its new baby, pokemapper.co.

“I was looking today, and we’ve gotten written up in the Russian tech press, Germany, the U.K.,” Bliss said. “ ‘Pokémon Go’ is taking the world by storm, and we’re along for the ride, for better or for worse. Right now, we’re just trying to keep up with the server traffic.”

While it would be nice to somehow monetize the pokemapper.co website, Bliss said, the OpenRide team is happy for now that they can use it simply as a vehicle to expose more people to OpenRide. At pokemapper.co, they have a link that reads, “Who made this?” If users click there, they get information about OpenRide.

Because “Pokémon Go” is new to the United States, Australia, the European Union and elsewhere, businesses are still figuring out ways to market themselves to the millions of consumers using the game.

Some businesses place “lures” near their storefronts to encourage Pokémon creatures to appear, and that, in turn, attracts players and could translate into new business. They also display special discounts to players or offer products made to look like items from the game. On Thursday, McDonald’s and Niantic announced that the multinational burger chain would become the first major corporation to collaborate with game creators. Details about what that means have not yet been released.

Although many businesses are seeking ways to use the game to benefit their businesses, attorneys at Chicago-based Seyfarth Shaw law firm say that others are concerned about unexpected perils of the game. Some of the firm’s clients worry that employees are violating rules that restrict personal use of company-issued mobile phones. Other clients, the firm said, have reported that morning tardies are up over 10 percent among certain groups of employees and that the length of employee absences for breaks and lunches are noticeably extending.

And then there are the clients who fear what may happen when players trespass on their land to pursue a Pokémon creature. Seyfarth Shaw’s attorneys reported that one intrepid player nearly fell down an agricultural company’s unused grain elevator while attempting to capture a screeching Golbat.

Want to experience the thrill of the chase for a Pokémon critter without leaving your home? Go to YouTube.com and search for the growing number of videos on how to play “Pokémon Go.”

Cathie Anderson: 916-321-1193, @CathieA_SacBee

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