hat is Pokémon Go?
Just in case you’ve been trapped inside a Pokéball or otherwise somehow missed out on the recent wave of Pokémania, let’s start with the basics. Pokémon Go is a mobile game which started out life as an April Fool’s joke in 2014. The ‘Pokémon Challenge’ video, which showed people out in the wild catching pocket monsters on their smartphones, was intended as a light-hearted way to promote Google Maps, but fan response was so enthusiastic that it sparked conversations within Google about whether the project could become a reality. Fast forward two years, and we’ve now got Pokémon Go, a location-based game that requires outdoors exploration to pick up items, battle for control of local ‘gyms’ and, of course, collect the game’s 151 Pokémon. The app is a uniquely mobile experience, combining gamification, touchscreen controls, GPS tracking and even augmented reality in one neat package.
Just how successful has it been? Despite a lack of official figures, there has been no shortage of jaw-dropping Pokémon Go statistics since its launch. Within days, the game had amassed 20m active daily users in the US alone, more than any mobile game before it – and even overtaking the likes of Twitter. In its first month alone, the game was downloaded more than 100m times and pulled in over $200m (£154m) from in-app purchases. These users are staying engaged, too. According to App Annie, a quarter of all people who downloaded Pokémon Go in
Japan play it on a daily basis. And according to figures from Sensor Tower, the average player opens the app six times and plays for over 26 minutes each day.
Who’s behind the game? Despite the common misunderstanding that Nintendo makes Pokémon Go – which saw the company’s shares soaring after the game’s launch, and then levelling out as investors discovered their mistake – the game’s developer is actually Niantic, a relatively small studio with just one other game under its belt. However, it’s not quite as straightforward as that. Niantic started out as a part of Google, where it developed its previous game, Ingress, but spun out as its own company in August 2015, after Google restructured its business and formed parent company Alphabet. Later that year, Google joined Nintendo and the Pokémon Company – the Nintendo-owned business that, unsurprisingly, is responsible for the Pokémon franchise – in a $30m investment round in Niantic. It’s unknown exactly what stake each company holds, so while all have benefited from Pokémon Go’s success, to what extent is not clear.
So what’s the secret of its success? There’s no smart marketing campaign or user acquisition strategy behind Pokémon Go’s popularity. Honestly, the game actually had one of the messiest roll-outs we’ve ever seen. After months of anticipation, and speculation about when exactly it would be
released, Pokémon Go began a limited beta test in Australia and New Zealand at the start of July. Worldwide hunger for the release led to APK files and App Store workarounds being shared online within hours, putting incredible strain on the game’s servers as user numbers exploded worldwide. The global roll-out that followed seemed reluctant, with the game popping up in new territories without much warning or fanfare from the developer. The game didn’t arrive in Pokémon’s home territory of Japan until two weeks later, after an unexpected delay caused by a leaked email. The app was released as something of a minimum viable product, with server problems that are still being ironed out. Niantic has continued to anger dedicated players with progress-deleting bugs and updates that actually remove features. So, despite its enormous success, we wouldn’t advise any app developer looks to Pokémon Go as any sort of case study in best practice. The secret to its success, if there is one, is something much harder to replicate. Pokémon Go has managed to bring to life the childhood fantasy of an entire generation who grew up in the ’90s, and made it easy for them to access right in their pocket.
27 02/09/2016 11:46
The September 2016 print edition of Mobile Marketing