Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Who is the Winner? Pokémon Go or Harry Potter!!!

For Illustrative Purpose Only
THE last month has been an eventful one for nostalgia fuelled phenomenon. We have had Pokémon Go which launched on August 6th. If you have internet then you must have heard of Pokémon Go. It was all across the social media and news websites not to mention being extensively covered by TV media as well. The second big event was the launch of the new Harry Potter book ‘Harry Potter and the cursed Child’.  It’s actually the script of the Broadway play which was released in book form.

There are striking similarities along many lines. Both Pokémon Go and Harry potter come with a devoted fan base. Pokémon was a part of the videogame culture of the 90th and the TV series was also well received. The spinoffs into trump cards were also very successful. The franchise had a healthy dose of nostalgia associated with it. The game was well designed and very well received. To say it was a success was an understatement.

On the other hand Harry Potter books are hailed as the single biggest factor in the revival of book reading among the younger generation.  At a time when cartoons and TV series were at its peak and children were glued to cable TV and internet screes and Gameboys. The book series was exceptionally successful in cultivating and nurturing a loyal fan base. The series had seven books published over ten years from 1997 to 2007 and its conclusion was an epic event. They were subsequently converted into movies and these were very successful as well.

Let us go into some news bites. For the launch of the Harry Potter and the cursed child, there were midnight release countdowns. Bookstores and the publisher held midnight release parties. Customers came in droves and lines stretched around the block for getting your hands on a copy. More than two Million copies were sold worldwide. For the Broadway play, the tickets are sold out for the next few months. Tickets for the play are being resold for close to a thousand pounds online.

Pokémon Go on the other hand did not do a lot of publicity or spent much in marketing. The game was released like any other app gets listed with just some press briefs and small events. But the buzz online was phenomenal. The game topped the charts and broke the record for the most downloaded app. The engagement of the players and time spent on the game was phenomenal.

A definite trend began to emerge. The hoopla and sales of the book tapered quite considerably a month post release. Pokémon Go on the other hand continues to go strong. This is an excellent example of how the way we engage with the world and those around us has changed with technology. The ubiquitous smart phone was never a part of our lives before and this crucial difference is the key of Pokémon Go’s success. By making something that was engaging and fun accessible in the palm of your hand, Pokémon Go has been able to be a continuing part of the player’s life at every instant. Potter on the other hand is a book and once the reading is over, the engagement ceases.

There is a lesson here. You may bank on nostalgia and brand equity of the franchise for getting you off the starting block. But to be truly engaged, any franchise will need to be delivered in format that leverages the single biggest competition to the attention span of the consumer, the smart phone.

At its core, the Potter book is a mystery. A search for the culprit and the unveiling of a mystery is the core. Pokémon on the other hand uses one of the most base instincts of the human mind, that of a hunter gatherer to create a thrill of a hunt by following clues. 

This engaging mix of mystery and an epic hunt that requires decoding of clues forms a crucial part of the upcoming book “The Indus Challenge”. In the ancient land of India during the times of Alexander and Chandragupta Maurya, an ancient seal is uncovered. And thus starts the epic hunt for unveiling the mystery so powerful that it can change the shape of the world. To join this epic hunt from the icy heights of Mount Kailash to the silent seas of Rameshwar, you need to grab a copy soon. “The Indus Challenge” releasing soon!!

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Pokémon - Everyone loves a good Hunt!!

For Illustrative Purpose Only
MAN was once a nomadic animal. His existence was that of a hunter and gatherer. Just like a predator he would be on the hunt and stalk prey and kill. This hunting continued even when he became domesticated and had farmed animals and agriculture. Now, it was more a way showing bravery. Even though hunting for trophy or for subsistence has gone down it has not been eliminated. Most people simply do not have the tools to hunt. This base instinct of being a hunter, a person on the scent of a prey has combined with mobile gaming technology to give us the phenomenon that is Pokémon Go!

Pokémon is short for “Pocket Monster”. Originally a concept that originated in Japan as a game for the Gameboy videogame consoles in the early 90’s. The basic theme is insect collection, which the founder was fond of. The general theme was to collect all the Pokémon’s in a certain area to complete your collection. The next stage was to train the powerful Pokémon’s to fight and have virtual battles with other players Pokémon’s to win the league. The base concept thus is of collecting, training and battling.

Pokémon Go enmeshes this concept in the real world situation. The creatures appear or spawn in the real world at real locations and are visible on the phone screens of the player’s phones. You can capture these by using pokeballs, virtual balls with the power to capture the Pokémon’s. These are available at certain public places. The Pokémon’s themselves are themed with water based Pokémon’s found near water bodies and wild ones spawning randomly at any place. You have designated public places such as the Central Park New York or India Gate in Delhi which are Pokémon gyms. Here you train your Pokémon’s and fight other players. For some Pokémon’s, you get eggs and to hatch them you have to walk a certain number of kilometers. This was a perfect recipe for a hit. The game has smashed all records for player engagement and it is quickly shaping up to be a cultural phenomenon.

There have been various incidents that highlight the good and the bad of the phenomenon. Criminals have used odd locations where players chase the Pokémon’s to rob players. People have stopped on busy highways to catch rare Pokémon’s causing accidents. A girl discovered a floating dead body in the river while catching Pokémon. There have also been complaints from cemeteries and homes that players have trespassed to catch the virtual monsters. But along with this there is whole lot of good happening. Americans have discovered metric system, since as per the game in order to hatch eggs to get rare Pokémon’s they have to walk a number of kilometers (Google search for kilometers to miles have shot up in the USA)!! Small historic towns have got increased traffic that is helping the economy as players flood to catch the rare Pokémon and spend on food and supplies in the local stores. Introverted gamers are coming out of the sofas and computer screen and walking around the real world and are swapping stories of their catches with absolute strangers and making friends. More people are discovering the hidden gems that their own city holds.

Additionally, there have been organized Poke hunts in various cities including in India. There was tremendous support with more than a thousand turning up for the hunts in Delhi. Tour companies in Italy are planning Poke hunts with a senior player as a guide. Tourists can hunt the Pokémon’s while going around the hotspots in buses. People have put in ads online to safely drive players for a fee while they hunt Pokémon’s. This whole ecosystem has been completely user generated and is unprecedented for any game in history.

But what is it that attracts the players. My guess is that the game at a certain level caters to the base instinct that exists in all of us. That is of a hunter gatherer. A seeker, who gets a hint, a clue, and wants to follow it. Call it hunting or call it treasure hunt, once you are on the scent you cannot stop. And everyone loves a good hunt!!

In the forthcoming book “The Indus Challenge”, an ancient seal with symbols from the Indus Valley civilization is found by Alexander the Great.  Thus starts a hunt for the ancient secret sciences of India. The hunt that involved everyone from Alexander and his Generals to  Chanakya, Chandragupta and Rudra his trusted lieutenant, the protagonist.  It was epic in scale spanning from the icy heights of Mount Kailash to the silent seas of Rameshwaram. To know more, you have to grab a copy of the book “The Indus Challenge”. To hit the bookstands soon!!

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Olympics during Alexander’s Time

For Illustrative Purpose Only
WITH the modern Olympic Games out in full swing at Rio, it may be a good time to understand better the fascinating history behind these games. The Olympic Games in the modern context represent unity of purpose between the different nations and the pinnacle of achievement by the human body and mind. The modern games are held every four years and drawn their inspiration from games held at Olympia in ancient Greece. Hence the name: Olympics. But the modern Olympics are a far cry from the games that were held during the time of Alexander.

The ancient games were held in the honor of Zeus, the Greek god. The start of the games predated Alexander by almost three centuries, the first game being generally considered to be held in 776 BC. The nature of the games were vastly different than today’s. Firstly, it was more of a religious celebration as well as an athletic one. Also, the events were quite limited and mostly consisted of running races, chariot races, discus throw, jumping and running with armor. In later years, boxing, wrestling and other combined athletic events were added .There were no team events at all.  Interestingly, one of the most anticipated events in these games was a running race of about 190 meters signifying the length of the feet of the mythical Hercules. The race was called at the “stadion” race and always drew enormous crowds. This race is the origin of the word ‘stadium’.

Only free men who spoke Greek were allowed to compete in the games. The rule was quite strictly enforced. The Macedonian king Alexander I (494-454 BC) who predated Alexander the Great was not allowed to compete as a Macedonian. He had to prove his Greek ancestry and only then was he allowed to participate in the games. He was one of the rare Royals to have taken part in the games. The Roman emperor Nero who competed in the chariot race in 67 AD was thrown from his chariot but was declared a winner!! The logic being that he would have won if he had completed the race!!

All participants had to take an oath in front of Zeus that they had practiced at least for 10 months for the sport that they were competing in. Another interesting aspect of the ancient games was that all the athletes competed fully nude!!  This tradition of athletic nudity was called “gymnos” and modern gymnastics and gymnasiums owe their origins to this tradition. Since the contestants were in the nude, married woman were not allowed to be spectators at the games. And this was an offence punishable by death!!

The winners were given olive branches and olive branch crowns. The city State and the villages where they came from further give prizes and money to the champions. Poets would write poems and songs in their honor. Their athletic body would be used by painters and sculptors as models of human physique.

The Olympic Games were also an economic tool. The congregation of all the rich people of all the various city states proved to be a fertile ground for traders of all sorts of luxuries. It was also an excellent place for painters and sculptors to sell their services and get commissions. The whole city would transform to become one huge culturally rich diverse and beautiful city.

Another aspect of the games was the political stability and truce declared during the games. Various city states in ancient Greece would keep the wars on hold and let the games be played. This allowed the various athletes, kings and traders to travel beyond the borders of their own city states safely and without fear of being robbed or captured.

The games also provided a fertile ground to announce all sorts of political alliances. From wedding announcements to treaties between kingdoms to long-term truces, the games were as much a tool of foreign policy as it was for athletic achievement.

Alexander the great was a great fan of the games but could never compete in one. There is no historical evidence of him attending the games personally. But, he understood the importance of such athletic contests in keeping up spirit of his troops.  In his entire conquest towards the east from Macedonia he had organized various games at different locations for his army. Alexander the Great, was also a suave politician.  His conquests were always announced at the games keeping the wider Greek Empire aware about this fierce king. At the Olympic  games held in the year before his death. Alexander announced that all  people exiled from the various cities in Greece by the local chieftains would be allowed back in. As Emperor he would ensure their return. This was a masterstroke. It ensured that in every city he had a good number of personal supporters of his Empire. In some city states this decision created a minor civil unrest with the local chieftain feeling threatened but in the end Alexander’s hold on power was strengthened.

In ancient India such athletic games were held from time to time. One of the most famous examples is that of the games held among the Kauravas and Pandavas held at Hastinapur. It was these games that cemented the chasm between the two families and made Karna a bedrock of the Kaurava camp. 

Continuing in that tradition, even Chandragupta Maurya encouraged games as a way of expressing battle readiness. It was in one such competition, that adversity fell like a lightning on to Rudra pitching his whole life into turmoil. What was this adversity, who is Rudra, does he overcome this adversity? To know more you need to grab a copy of the upcoming book “The Indus Challenge”. Soon to hit the bookstores….