The last two months have been an absolute whirlwind, hasn't it? One minute we're all just minding our business and then the next, a little app called Pokemon GO is dropped and the world went absolutely wild for it. In fact, the hype around the app reached absolute fever pitch to the tune of 45 million active users during its peak in July. Those are crazy numbers for any app which is why it was top of the charts in the App Store for a good long while.
As with everything in life, things that go up must come down. You can't ride high forever and it's the same with Pokemon GO. The problems that plagued it and just the general passage of time have already started to peel off some of the luster. Now that things are slowing down and we can all come up for air, it'd be a good time to take stock and try to get our heads around what the hell just happened.
The Oncoming Poke-Storm
There was so much anticipation and so much hype around the app that the release of Pokemon GO was felt throughout the marketplace and for a while it was good. At the release of the game and seeing people go into a frenzy, the value of Nintendo stock suddenly began to skyrocket. Investors had nothing but confidence that this was going to be the "next big thing." That mentality stretched to the general populace, too. The moment the game popped up, there was a marked increase in interest around augmented reality games. Things were really looking up.
The growth of Pokemon GO was so swift and absolutely relentless that it even had investors and executives over at the big social media tent poles like Facebook, Snapshat, Instagram, and Twitter sweating. They were worried that the game was taking time away from people using other social media apps and that it actually might hurt their bottom line. How wild is that?
Old fans, new fans, and bandwagoners alike were gathering in droves at Pokestops to get their fill of equipment before they walked around places they wouldn't have gone if not for the app. New friendships (and hateships) were made and even local business got into the action. It was weeks of wide eyed innocence and fun adventure (sprinkled with some light trespassing and vandalization). And for a while, it was good. Of course, honeymoon periods don't last forever and once the rose tinted glasses came off, perceptions started to change.
What Happened After The Honeymoon?
After the initial excitement of the game wore off and the novelty of the AR setting gave way to saving battery life, what were we left with? A mostly functioning game with more than its share of troubles. At the start, there were problems with the servers. The surge in users was completely unexpected not to mention the fact that a lot of us were attempting to log on to the game even though it may or may not have been officially released in our country yet. But we had patience and we kept playing. The social aspect was still there and overall the fun of hunting was still alive. But then a few key problems began to keep poking at us.
1. Tracking: The tracking was wonky but we had some outside help to keep us hunting. However, things took a turn when the tracking apps were attacked. The thing is, even though Pokemon GO itself had a tracking system, we all know it was pretty flawed at best. Nevertheless, when third parties tried to lend a hand, Niantic decided to put its foot down and not only take tracking sites down but their own tracker down as well. At this point there's a slow roll out of a new tracking system but the whole experience with how Niantic handled the entire issue left a bad taste in a lot of people's mouths.
2. Stability: Server problems were abound and it's hard to have a good time trying to catch something in Santa Monica when you can't even log on. Being in a crowded area and in close proximity to a lot of trainers seemed to help trigger the problem. That's unfortunate given the fact that if you drop a lure module in any place with high foot traffic, you're guaranteeing a mob.
3. A Lack of Features: At the end of day, the expectation versus the reality of the game is pretty disparaging. Yes, it's fun walking around and catching Pokemon out in the real world. For a few people, just doing that might be enough. Catch Pokemon, maybe take over a few gyms here and there, rinse and repeat. For the average user though, that turns into a grind. New stimulus will always be needed. Niantic themselves admitted at SDCC that what we're experiencing now is only a fraction of what they have planned for the game. Unfortunately, updates are slow to come and that caused a loss in momentum.
The Importance of Keeping Momentum
When you have an unwieldy hype beast like Pokemon GO, keeping momentum is absolutely crucial. Whether it's through little announcements here and there, little touches, and community engagement, stoking the fire is key to keeping your retention rates up. The people who hopped on because it was a fad are going to fall off eventually, that's pretty inevitable. But solid communication with your user base and having a good pace around improving the user experience can do wonders. Has Niantic been doing a good job of keeping up the momentum? According to other people's math, no they haven't.
A company called Axiom Capital Management grabbed data from three different sources to get at how many daily active users Pokemon GO has. According to their findings, as of August 18th, active users are just a touch over 30 million, which isn't a small number by any means, but it's certainly down from its peak of 45 million in July when it first came out.
Not only that but overall active engagement around the game has been facing a steady decline as well. It might not seem like it because places like The Pike or Santa Monica here in California look like they're still filled to the rafters, but overall data suggests that people are starting to Pokemon GO somewhere else to find their fun.
What that means for Niantic and Nintendo is that they have a lot of work to do to have any hope of getting back their lost momentum. With Pokemon GO Plus coming up for release and a few solid updates, they might just clinch a resurgence, but that's left to be seen.
So What's The Take Away?
The situation with Pokemon GO is a textbook example of the effects of hype and what happens when a product doesn't quite meet hyped expectations. It's through no fault of Niantics, they couldn't have foreseen everything that befell them the minute the game came out. The world was an absolute madhouse and even "grown up" investors got on the hype train by throwing money at the darn thing without really taking the time to get to know the product outside of "a lot of people are using it."
The problem is hype that burns that hot is hard to sustain. Niantic felt it and other people who are now in their situation (looking at you Hello Games) will probably feel it, too. Now that things are taking a slow decline, it's up to Niantic to come up with its long game to keep the app sustainable.
That being said, the slow decline doesn't take away from what Pokemon GO has accomplished in the relatively short time it was here. It broke record after record, got people to go out and explore, and shook things up enough that even big executives at other social media companies got a little worried. Though they're breathing a sigh of relief now, if Niantic can get their ish together in good time, they might start sweating yet again.