Chances are you’ve heard of Pokémon Go – maybe you’re even playing it right now! In the few weeks since the public release of the app, an estimated 75 million downloads have occurred! Trendswatch 2016 predicts that augmented and virtual realities are going to provide arts and cultural organizations with new ways to make exhibits more accessible. Pokémon Go’s popularity is proof that virtual reality technology isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. *

Has your organization thought about how to leverage technology like Pokémon Go?

Pokémon Go is an augmented reality game that is available on mobile phones. Using the phone’s GPS and camera, players are able to collect Pokémon. The goal is to capture as many rare Pokémon as a player can find and battle them at Gyms, which happen to be important areas of interest throughout the world. Before we dive deeper, some basic Pokémon terms include:

  • PokeStops—Usually landmarks, PokeStops are places where players find Pokémon and pick up supplies.
  • Gyms—Also landmarks, Gyms are places where players can battle their Pokémon. The winner is then able to claim the gym for their team (think of this as like virtual “Capture-the-Flag”).
  • Lures—Lures can be purchased using Poke Coins and attract Pokémon to PokeStops. Anyone can buy and set off lures.
  • Pokémon Professor Program—After taking a test and proving their Pokémon knowledge, Pokémon Professors are able to work at tournaments as judges and organize large events.

Recently, I sat down with Matthew Gibson, curator of natural history at the Charleston Museum, to find out how he and his team organized the Museum’s first Pokémon Go event.

How did you get the idea to host an event?

The idea was actually brought to me by our education coordinator. She received an email from Museum Hack that talked about how museums could “catch millennials” through embracing games like Pokémon Go. I’ve hosted Pokémon events before as part of the Pokémon Professor Program, so I thought we could make it work.

When we began planning, existing PokeStops really worked to our advantage since they were already established around the Museum. These stops were already attracting visitors to come and play. In our case, there are four stops. We can purchase Lures in the game to release them whenever we want to attract players.

(Side note: Matthew has been an active Pokémon community leader and expert since the 90s.)

How did you let people know that the Museum would be having a Pokémon event?

We posted on our Twitter and Facebook pages and included #palmettopokémon. I was able to promote it through community forums and local fan sites.

Was the event well attended?

We had a steady stream of people throughout the day. It was a rainy Saturday, which helped draw players to our indoor event. We held it from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. in conjunction with a family-friendly Ice Age and fossil event that we had already scheduled. Regular admission was charged and people were able to enjoy two events for the price of one.

Did you do anything special for the Pokémon Go event?

It just so happened, that the Pokémon game servers went down, so we had to postpone the start of the event. While people were waiting, I was able to get a fossil of an ammonite, which is the basis for the Pokémon character Omanyte.

Most people don’t know that Pokémon is a natural history-based game. The characters are actually based off of real animals. It was great to share a bit of Pokémon history and natural history with visitors!

Pokemon eventOur main activity was the photo contest. The goal was to try and match Pokémon with an exhibit in the Museum. In return, visitors would learn a little more about the exhibit. We had 20 people participate in the photo contest. Pictures were posted on Instagram and Facebook using #palmettopokémon. We picked a winner based on the composition and rarity of the Pokémon character. We didn’t offer a prize, but the winner was able to “claim” the Museum for their team and have bragging rights.

(Side note: In the game, there are three teams to choose from when you reach a “trainer” level. Teams then compete for ownerships of Gyms, or in our case, a contest through a Poke-event.)

Are you going to host more events, and would you do anything differently?

Most likely! We’ll host them in conjunction with children’s events, which are often held on Saturday’s when attendance is higher. We’ll also continue the photo contest and explore adding more Pokémon-related activities. One thing we’ll likely change is the time. Running the event for four hours was a little long, so we’ll probably cut it in half next time.

 Tips for organizing your Pokémon Go event:

  • Promote your venue if it’s a Gym. I’ve heard of other organizations setting up areas outside to allow people to battle their Pokémon. That way they can still enjoy the game but aren’t a disruption to visitors.
  • Check to see if your organization has PokeStops in the game. If your organization isn’t a Gym, check to see if you have PokeStops, and use Lures to attract Pokémon and players to your organization through them.
  • Invest in Lures to draw a crowd. The app doesn’t cost anything to download, and Lures cost less than a dollar. Lures last for thirty minutes to attract players, so it’s worth the investment.

*Based on research from Sensor Tower.

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As associate account manager for Blackbaud’s internal marketing agency, Rachel guides the development of creative campaigns from idea inception to project completion. She specializes in the arts and cultural sector, managing programs that address general admission and reserved seating organizations like museums, theaters, public gardens, and zoos. Rachel graduated with a BA from Coker College for communication, and her extensive writing background has continued to bring Blackbaud closer to its customers during her five year tenure with the company.

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