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Brayn Roth
Bryan Roth, vice president and co-founder of Geocaching, in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood where the company is located. (Via Geocaching HQ)

Before there was Pokémon Go, gamers wanting to get a breath of fresh air and actually hunt for something outdoors may have turned to geocaching to fill that need.

For those who were perhaps trapped in their basements and unaware what geocaching was before it got a side mention in a Pokémon story during the past two weeks, it’s a worldwide phenomenon of its own. People with GPS-enabled devices challenge themselves to hunt for containers — known as caches — which contain log books, trackable objects and other items.

A few years ago, Seattle-based Geocaching.com — the operator and promoter of the geocaching community — celebrated the milestone of 2 million active geocaches. There are 16,456 near Seattle alone, according to the company’s website, which is the definitive resource for locating caches, tracking progress, and connecting with other members of the geocaching community.

GeekWire reached out to Geocaching HQ to get the company’s opinion on Pokémon Go, how it compares to geocaching and what effect “catching ’em all” is having on the more well-established game. Bryan Roth, vice president and co-founder, shared his insights below:

Pokemon Go players
Pokémon Go players took over a park in Bellevue, Wash., last weekend. (GeekWire)

What do you think of of Pokemon Go?

Bryan Roth: “Pokémon Go is a unique phenomenon in the mobile gaming, and particularly, location-based gaming world. Leveraging a very well known IP and a well-built location-based gaming platform, they have engaged a significant worldwide population of smartphone users in just a few days. This is a huge accomplishment. We really appreciate the fact that, like geocaching, this game gets people outside having fun and away from their couches and televisions. Outdoor recreation is good for people and, in aggregate, good for the world.

“There are a couple of possible concerns, though. A higher potential for accidents results from users being so focused on their phone screens and not so much on their surroundings. Also, Pokémon gyms and Pokestops can create large gatherings at inopportune locations. We’ve seen some examples in the first few weeks with more likely to come. Hopefully, they can find ways to manage that, or I fear we could see legislation and land-management policies restricting this type of game play. Potential policies and restrictions could negatively affect geocaching and other location-based activities as well.”

Do you see the parallels between Pokémon and geocaching?

Roth: “Yes, of course. Both games encourage people to use technology to get outdoors and have an adventure. But there are a few big differences. In geocaching, there’s an actual physical item to find at the end of your search. Cache locations are created by the players, not by Geocaching HQ. Also, game play is not dependent on cell coverage, so the game is able to extend into more remote locations. Additionally, some geocache types involve solving puzzles, story-driven adventures and multiple stages in order to find a cache. Pokémon also includes competitive elements, like fighting for a Gym whereas the competitive elements in geocaching mostly resolve around being the “First to Find” a new geocache and geocache finding statistics.”

Geocaching
Talk about getting out of the house. A geocacher in a spectacular setting. (Via Geocaching.com)

Are you seeing less geocaching taking place as people go nuts about Pokémon Go?

Roth: Quite the opposite, actually. These past few weeks we’ve seen some of the highest sign-up numbers in our history. What we’ve found is that many media outlets are using geocaching as a reference point for explaining Pokémon Go. That’s leading to a lot of geocaching mentions in the news, so tons more people are learning about our game. Also, we’ve found a lot of people talking about enjoying the aspect of finding something physical as opposed to catching digital monsters.”

Are there any lessons from Pokémon Go that you can apply to your geocaching app?

Roth: “The geocaching community is filled with gamers, and they’ve never been shy about sharing how their other favorite games have aspects which could be applied to geocaching. One thing that is interesting to note is that Pokémon gameplay encourages multiple visits to a location, like a Pokéstop, where geocaching doesn’t really do that. We have some ideas for future innovation based on what we’re learning from other games, but we’re going to work on those quietly for now.”

Geocaching app
The Geocaching app. (Via Geocaching.com)

How has geocaching tried to evolve to stay current with modern technology?

Roth: “Technologically, we’re looking at turning every location into an adventure, allowing discovery to hide just around the next corner in every city and town. This may include a virtual component to geocaching (which we’re experimenting with now, under the name Lab Caches), and utilizing emerging technologies like RFID, iBeacons to other location-aware technologies. Originally, geocaching was limited to GPS devices, maps and compasses. With the addition and evolution of smartphones, we’ve been able to release mobile apps putting the potential for enhanced geocaching play, social sharing and community-based messaging in everyone’s pockets. With our latest iOS release, we’ve added dedicated GeoTour functionality which, we believe, can have a significant impact on future travel and tourism. As technology continues to advance, we will be looking at incorporating new elements into the game and we’re excited to deliver more to the global geocaching community.”

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