Pokemon Go

Remember Pokemon Go? Fervour for game has cooled, but it isn’t dead yet

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 September, 2016, 2:15pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 September, 2016, 9:52pm

Does “Pokemon Go” have a second act?

The mobile phone app was an instant hit when it debuted in July. Crowds stampeded through Taiwan. Players fell off cliffs in California.

At an Apple event on September 7, Niantic CEO John Hanke said 500 million people had downloaded the game in just two months. It was the first mobile game to go mainstream in a big way since “Candy Crush” in 2014 or “Angry Birds” in 2012. It was also the first to incorporate augmented reality, a blending of the real and virtual worlds.

But the buzz has decidedly cooled. Last Tuesday, the game ended its reign as the top-grossing US iPhone app after 74 days on top, replaced by “Clash Royale”. a popular battling game, according to research firm Sensor Tower. Twitter mentions of the game peaked at 1.7 million on July 11, five days after its launch, according to Adobe Digital Insights. That number had fallen by 98 per cent, to 131,000, by September 7, when Apple featured it.

Watch: Pokemon Go players stampede through Beitou in Taiwan

Was it all a summer fever dream? While experts say the game is likely to remain popular for a while, it needs to evolve to have real staying power — just like its namesake digital creatures.

“Almost anything of this sort is a fad,” says Steve Jones, a communications professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “I think we’ve seen the tapering off.”

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Of course, an enormous number of people still play the game. Research firm App Annie estimates 1 in 10 smartphone owners in the US are playing; in Japan, that number is 1 in 4. Those US figures are half what App Annie saw the week after the game launched — but to put them in perspective, they still reflect roughly the same user interest as Twitter or Pinterest.

“Pokemon Go” has also been good at keeping people playing after signing up. Its 30-day retention rate is the second best on the Google Play store — behind “Words with Friends,” but ahead of other popular games such as “Clash of Clans” and “Clash Royale.”

“For a gaming app to be as big as a social network is unprecedented,” said Fabien-Pierre Nicolas, a spokesman at App Annie. “Right now, yes, they’re losing a million players every week. But they get a million new players every week.”

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The longer users interact with the game, the more time a company has to figure out how to get money from them, Nicolas said. It took a year for some successful games like “Clash of Clans”, “Puzzle“ and “Dragon“ to earn revenue of US$1 billion, but “Pokemon Go” has already made more than US$500 million in revenue in two months alone, according to App Annie. The game is free, but lets users purchase items in the game.

But with social chatter dying down and a new smartphone game based on a beloved 1990s character — “Super Mario Run” — hitting app stores in December, Pokemon will have to reinvent itself.

Niantic has been trying to freshen things up. In September it introduced a “buddy” system, allowing users to pair up with a Pokemon to scoop up game currency called “candy.” It has also debuted an Apple Watch app and introduced a US$35 wearable device, Pokemon Go Plus, which lights up and vibrates when you’re near a Pokestop or a newly appeared Pokemon.

Niantic did not respond to a request for comment.

Jones suggests the company needs to do more to keep people interested — for example, by adding some kind of social element so that players can interact with each other. His two teenage sons, he notes, have grown slightly less enchanted with the game.

“Young people are used to doing social media and there isn’t really messaging as part of the game,” Jones said.