Pokemon Go, which sends its players out into the wild to catch local pocket monsters, is currently the hottest free app on the iTunes store, but when its development began, it was nothing more than an elaborate gag. The augmented reality smash hit was first devised as an April Fools joke, which Google Maps shared in 2014.
The collaboration that would eventually beget Pokemon Go began when developer Niantic, then a subsidiary of Google, reached out to Nintendo. The two companies ended up working together to produce “Pokemon Challenge,” a video that served as Google Maps’ April Fools prank in 2014. While the mapping service’s pledge to find the world’s top Pokemon trainers was mostly in jest, it did temporarily hide Pokemon in real life locations and gave its users the chance to “catch” those creatures.
The joke didn’t stick around for long, but the partnership between Niantic and Nintendo did. “That Pokémon Challenge was a chance for us to be able to build relations with people at Pokémon,” Niantic Japan representative president Setsuto Murai told Nintendo Insider. “The talk became ‘Let’s do something together in the future.’”
That something ended up being Pokemon Go, which bears many similarities to the gag that spawned it. The two projects are linked by their gameplay and design, and when promoting its new game, Niantic even turned to the producers it had worked with previously. “We actually used the same company to do the launch video for Pokémon Go as worked on the April Fool’s video,” Niantic CEO John Hanke told Nintendo Insider.
Will the success of Pokemon Go convince other companies to turn their practical jokes into real-life products? If it does, I will eagerly await a SnoopaVision app sometime around 2016.