Despite only being initially launched in the US, Australia and New Zealand, Pokémon Go has quickly became one of the most popular mobile games in the world, reaching active user levels comparable to Twitter. The free-to-play game, developed by Niantic in an agreement with The Pokémon Company, uses a smartphone’s global positioning system (GPS) and cameras to create an augmented reality (AR) game in which players find Pokémon in the real world. Despite its current success, there are plenty of reasons why Pokémon Go may prove to be a short-term craze, but one with long-term implications.
Source: Euromonitor International
While Pokémon has long been a fairly popular property and was one of the top-performing Nintendo brands in 2015, despite no core game release in the year, its biggest moment of fame came from the launch of its first game in 1996. Pokémon quickly became popular in numerous regions after that and, in addition to the game, also saw hugely popular television shows, movies, trading cards and other licensed merchandise. Eventually, news outlets like Time Magazine and MSNBC dubbed the newfound popularity of the brand “Pokémania”. Currently, many markets seem to be once more infatuated with the Pokémon brand due to Pokémon Go. The app has been praised for its social aspects, such as encouraging extended walks and meeting other people as well as the ability to create photos featuring images of various Pokémon. Businesses are also looking at possibly partnering with the app to drive foot traffic to their retail or foodservice locations by turning them into sponsored areas of the game where consumers can find rare Pokémon or items. Furthermore, the app has become so popular that many worry it could be a public danger due to reports of consumers hurting themselves while looking at their phones, entering places they should not to catch Pokémon, and even being robbed because of the game.
Winter comes to fickle gamers
Source: Euromonitor International
Despite its immense popularity at the moment, Pokémon Go is subject to the whims of one of the most notoriously fickle groups in video games: mobile gamers. Typically, mobile gamers will flock to one game and move it to the top of the download and revenue grossing charts, and then, just as quickly, move on to a new game. While there are notable exceptions, such as Clash of Clans, which has seen consistent sales growth, the rule has generally proven true for most brands, like Puzzles & Dragons, which was the biggest game in Japan from 2013 to 2014, but saw a 16% decline in sales in local currency in 2015 and was unseated from the number one spot. Pokémon Go will have trouble retaining its audience over the next few months as new games continually enter the market to challenge it and the novelty of taking pictures next to Pokémon fades. Even if it manages to keep players engaged by introducing new features like trading or battle systems with peers, the game’s dependence on having consumers walk around to catch Pokémon will likely mean it may lose much of its audience once some markets enter cold winters or rainy seasons and limit consumer desire to go outside. Once consumers stop using Pokémon Go it will likely be incredibly difficult to get them to pick it up later, as they will likely have already moved on to a new game.
Signs of changes to come
Despite the possibilities of near-term struggles, there are long-term things that may happen as a result of Pokémon Go. First is the likely increase in the number of apps developed that attempt to copy Pokémon Go’s playstyle, namely using a smartphone’s GPS and camera to create a location-based augmented reality game. In addition, the game demonstrates that the market for AR games holds a lot of potential, and will likely push many of the upcoming AR headsets like HoloLens and Magic Leap to do more in this gaming space. Finally, the success of the game has demonstrated that the Pokémon brand still carries a lot of weight with both children and nostalgic adults who played the game in their youths, and, as such, has rekindled the push for the development of a live action Pokémon film. Other brands that have a nostalgia tie to adult consumers may now feel tempted to find a way to re-enter the market via mobile gaming. No matter how Pokémon Go fares in the next few months, its initial enormous success will spur many changes in the gaming market and beyond for years to come.