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Pokemon Go

Pokemon Go-like augmented reality game Snatch is a big hit in the UK, and it’s heading to the US

After the incredible, but short-lived success of Pokemon Go, a British game offering physical prizes and the chance to steal them from other players is building momentum with 250,000 downloads

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 March, 2017, 7:03pm
UPDATED : Friday, 24 March, 2017, 10:31pm

Last summer, Pokemon Go took the world by storm, with kids and adults obsessively hunting for Bellsprouts and Pikachus, sometimes at their own peril. The game earned US$200 million in its first month and served as an introduction for augmented reality games.

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But as addictive as the game was, Pokemon Go was ultimately just a time killer for most people. Now a British start-up is using the same concept to offer actual physical rewards to players.

Snatch launched last month in the UK and has already been downloaded more than 250,000 times. It’s the country's most popular adventure app, and it will be heading to the US later this year.

It made its American debut at the South by Southwest conference in Austin this month. Players at the show are competing for prizes ranging from backpacks and beauty products to free avocados for life and US$50,000 in start-up funding.

“We’ve got a huge amount of respect for the game [Nintendo and Niantic] built,” says Phil Lloyd, chief marketing officer for Snatch.

“They have helped people like us accelerate conversations, because now people know [the game mechanics] and it’s very easy to get across the concept … But while we are similar, we’re also not. The entire point of Snatch is brand integration.”

Players use augmented reality to find parcels that contain some kind of swag (in the same way they would hunt for Pokemon). In the British version, those include free meals and subscriptions to Sky TV’s Now TV streaming service. Once the parcel is opened, whoever is in possession of it six hours later gets the prize – but other players can steal (or “snatch”) it away.

In-app purchases allow players to protect or pilfer their swag in a variety of ways. (In-app purchases are just a small part of the financial model for the company, though. Companies pay Snatch for placement in the app and pay again when players claim a parcel.)

So far, says Lloyd, 25 brands have signed one-year contracts to promote their products in the game. And as the company prepares for its American launch, it’s lining up prizes from both big corporations (Unilever Ventures is one of its backers, so talks are under way with that company’s other brands) and local establishments.

New York will be the first city to get to play with a scheduled summer launch.

“This isn’t all about big global brands,” says Lloyd. “This is about small medium and large brands … And part of the interest for brands is people really respect the contents of the parcel. Once you’ve got one, you really work to keep it for six hours.”

For players, it’s about the thrill of the hunt. The game uses an algorithm to ensure there are always people around to snatch from – but even if you’re out of defences, there are “safe houses” where your parcel can be protected for up to an hour.

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Not surprisingly, those are also Snatch retail partners – and players who check in at those locations are often rewarded with a discount coupon.

But Lloyd says the real fun of Snatch is being in the midst of the fight for prizes.

“The most exciting part of the game for people is doing the thing you shouldn’t do, which is stealing from other people,” he says.

While early momentum is promising, Snatch is taking a very deliberate pace with its roll out.

After New York, the company will add one US city at a time, most likely a mix of towns with dense populations and smaller tech hubs (where the potential base of interested players might be larger).

The idea, he says, is to avoid the significant drop in players faced by Pokemon Go as the hype faded.

“We’re very mindful of the very steep curve Pokemon Go had,” says Lloyd. “We just want to have a game that has a longer life cycle.”