TechMunch: The rise and fall of Pokémon Go?

Liz Mercer blogs on the surprise hit of summer, the now infamous Pokémon Go and if it’s all over for the game.


Its arrival was a revelation. Seemingly expertly crafted to mainline itself straight into the hearts, minds and memories of the world’s big kids, and a good portion of the smaller ones, Pokémon Go will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the biggest gaming phenomena of the smartphone age.

Not only did it catapult augmented reality into the mainstream, it beat the record for the world’s most downloaded app in its first week, swiftly racked up more daily users than Facebook and Twitter, and is now able to boast over 500 million downloads across iOS and Android. It made Niantic over $440m in three months. It added billions to Nintendo’s market value (albeit briefly, until people worked out they didn’t actually make the app). It changed lives, made near-daily headlines, and inspired adoration and vilification in almost equal measure.

You didn’t even need to hear any numbers to know that the app was experiencing the kind of success that perhaps only the makers of Angry Birds and Candy Crush Saga had ever enjoyed before. All you had to do was glance out of the window and you’d see hoards of adults, teens and children marching through parks and lingering near Poké Stops, swiping in perfect harmony, searching for an elusive Pikachu.

It was a magical time. People found dead bodies, fell off cliffs, got stuck in underground caves and ignored Justin Bieber.

But is it all over? Is Pokémon Go-ing?

Recent data gathered by Sensor Tower, SurveyMonkey, and Apptopia show plenty of graphs pointing downwards. It looks like Pokémon Go’s daily active users, download numbers, engagement, and time spent on the app per day are not only much lower than they were at the height of Pokémon-madness, but they’re actually slipping further south.

You might say this is only to be expected. Plenty of people will have just downloaded the app out of curiosity and even more would have decided they just aren’t prepared to walk 10K to hatch a rare egg (yes, it’s a requirement). However, the drop has been pretty significant – over 10m users have stopped playing between July and mid-August (out of a 45m total) – and with overall engagement and time spent on the app per day also declining, things aren’t looking too great for the game’s longevity.

It certainly seems to be less popular at the moment… Even as a big fan of the game, it’s definitely become more grind and fewer grins. The rare Pokémon have gone from few and far between to completely extinct, the levelling system is a nightmare, the distance tracker is useless and the Rattatas and Pidgeys (rat and pigeon-shaped Pokémon, for those living under a rock) are so tediously common it almost makes the game boring.

But it isn’t boring, at least not at its heart.

Though it has plenty of issues, I think a good portion of players could easily be lured back with a few smart updates. A new tracking system to help us hunt down our favourites would go a long way to making things better – and we know that’s on its way.

To be fair to Niantic, the game is also only three months old. It hasn’t even completed its worldwide launch yet and it’s still a small team (about 30 people): it’s no wonder they haven’t had the chance to add any more meaningful gameplay.

There’s also a tonne of potential. After nearly 20 years, the Pokémon world is really vast and one of the simplest ways to move the game on would be to add more generations of the little creatures (I’m personally holding out for a Togepi). Player-on-player battles outside of gyms would also be an instant hit and should spark a big resurgence of interest.

In a nutshell (or would that be a Pokéball?), it would be seriously premature to write the game off already. It may be tricky to inspire the same joy as those first few heady weeks in July, but whatever happens, I’m not prepared to turn in the towel just yet and nor are the 35million other players. After all, as every trainer knows, to catch them is our real quest, to train them is our cause…plus, I still haven’t caught a ****ing Pikachu!

Liz Mercer, Senior Account Manager, Technology