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Jul 20

Catch 'Em All in Downtown McKinney!

Posted on July 20, 2016 at 4:22 AM by Beth Shumate

Pokemon_GoPeople of all ages find McKinney’s downtown square to be a fun and interesting place to hang out with friends. This fact is nothing new, of course. However, the objects for which they’re searching is constantly changing. Within the past two weeks, new "hunters" wandering the square are on a quest not to find a unique item to eat or take home. Instead, they are catching invisible monsters, competing against other players for control of virtual gyms, and growing monster eggs in virtual incubators.

Pokemon Go, the free-to-play Smartphone app developed by Niantic and based on the popular card game and cartoons made popular in the 1980s, is attracting players to the downtown square in droves. But why? The location-based augmented reality mobile game was released just a couple weeks ago and as of the date of this blog, had already been downloaded by some 15 million players. As of July 11, the app had roughly 21 million daily players. And the numbers are increasing!

To feel the impact of this game on McKinney, go the downtown square any time of the day. Whether  early morning, the heat of a July afternoon, or the wee hours when the full moon is helping light Mitchell Park at the squares Westernmost edge of the historic downtown square, small clusters of players populate the sidewalks of the square. On a recent night around 1 a.m., at least two dozen players were wandering the square, collecting Pokemon (Japanese to English translation: pocket monsters).

But why historic downtown McKinney? Apparently during the four-year long development of the game, historic spots were targeted as places for Pokestops and gyms, virtual stops where players can either collect Pokeballs to virtually throw at the monsters to catch them as well or “fight” other players’ monsters. Downtown McKinney’s high concentration of historic buildings provides the perfect setting for the game.

Local media outlets have even focused on McKinney in news reports recently due to the fact that the mom-and-pop stores around the square are embracing the game for the increased traffic it brings to their business area. Sure, the main demographic of players (teens and 20-somethings) may not spend much money in the stores or dine in the restaurants, but for many of the players, their parents are the ones bringing them to the square to play. And many parents are playing along with their kids. Whether offering players bottles of water, discounts on snacks or even small gifts – players who show the app at our Visitors Center can select a small promotional item while cooling off in the air conditioning for a few minutes – businesses are rolling out the welcome mat!

One company in particular that has embraced the game is Munzee, the company that develops and promotes the QR-based Smartphone scavenger hunt app played worldwide. Now in the middle of its 5th year birthday celebration, Munzee sees the players as naturals to recruit for their style of play.

“Are you into playing nerdy games on your phone. Well, why don’t you try ours?” joked Rob Vardeman, Munzee president. “The games are different so why not want to play them both.”

(Side note: Many of the Munzee team were among some of the earliest Pokemon Go players once the downloads started a couple weeks ago!)

The company whose game is played by more than 277,000 people in 217 countries and on every continent around the globe also operates the Munzee Marketplace, a funky and cool convenience store in the center of the square. The shop is already a popular stop for Munzee players visiting McKinney on pilgrimages to MHQ (Munzee Headquarters), so why not be a stop for Pokemon players, too? The company is handing out cards featuring a QR code potential new players can scan to download that app.

“Munzee has been a wonderful tourism partner for us over the past few years. They bring hundreds of people each year to McKinney as well as traveling around the world to meet their players and host Munzee events,” said Dee-dee Guerra, Executive Director of the McKinney Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Everywhere they go, the Munzee guys are promoting McKinney. We love that!”

So whether searching for stylish clothes, one-of-a-kind gifts, gourmet food and live music, or QR codes and pocket monsters, McKinney’s historic downtown square is undoubtedly the place to be during the Summer of 2016!