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Business in Vancouver

Pokemon Go pushes ‘digital lifestyles’ in Canada

Vancouver tech companies benefitting from high-profile Pokemon game

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 July, 2016, 7:16am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 July, 2016, 5:43pm

Turn back the calendar one month and Matt Toner recalls having to spend much more time explaining the concept of his gaming app to people.

Nowadays, the CEO of Biba Ventures simply tells them, “It’s like Pokemon Go but for the playground.”

Similar to Pokemon Go, the Biba app offers location-based mobile gaming that uses augmented reality – technology that enhances what people are experiencing around them – to pull players from their basements and get them moving outdoors.

But instead of luring players into the streets with their heads aimed at their smartphones, Play Biba focuses the action on playgrounds to get children more active. Games involve challenges and puzzles on slides or monkey bars that parents referee with their own phones.

“Most of us in the studio have worked in the game space – in my case – 15 years. So we realised we helped create the problem that we’re now confronting,” Toner said, referring to the declining number of hours children are spending outside.

The Biba app works on any playground. But the company generates the bulk of its revenue through partnerships with playground-builders such as North Carolina-based Playpower Inc., which installs special sensors on its own equipment to enhance Biba’s games.

Meanwhile, Biba and Niantic, the developers behind Pokemon Go, had early talks about a possible partnership prior to the launch of the new Pokemon game, according to Toner. Those have since been put on hold after Niantic had to redirect most of its resources to launching Pokemon Go worldwide.

But Toner said early talks between another Vancouver start-up, Picniic, might bear more fruit.

Picniic founder Michael Cole was one of the minds behind the mobile brain fitness app Fit Brains, which has amassed 20 million users.

Like Biba, Cole’s new venture is making a push for the family market.

“My wife works, we’ve got two kids and to be honest, a lot of balls were dropping in our family,” Cole told Business In Vancouver.

“We just started to look for products out there to bring our family closer together, and I didn’t see a lot.”

After speaking to nearly 200 families, Cole found that most people like him were either using a mish-mash of written notes, text messages and digital tools, or else using an array of different apps. Picniic is taking an all-in-one approach with a family organization dashboard featuring a calendar, meal planning, to-do lists and check-ins.

Meanwhile, third-party integrations are allowing it to run other popular scheduling apps such as TeamSnap, so that parents can figure out when and where their children’s hockey or soccer games are going to be.

“That’s really the idea, to bring in all your data to one place so that everyone is on the same page, everyone knows their responsibilities and is just better connected as a family unit,” Cole said.

The app launched in Canada during the spring, while a US launch is planned in time for the start of the next school year.

Toner said collaboration between Biba and Picniic might involve some sort of play-date feature. “[Picniic] comes from a similar place. Digital lifestyles, families – how do they manage themselves better through these devices?”