How Nintendo managed to catch em’ all
In the week since its release, Pokémon Go has swiftly taken over the internet and the populace’s smartphones. SimilarWeb notes that it has surpassed applications like Tinder and Twitter to become one of the most used applications in America and has amassed over $14 million, raising Nintendo’s market value over $9 billion.
It is the definition of a viral success, which has led to many wondering where that success came from. Vox has an excellent description of the popularity of Pokémon, and how that popularity ensured that Pokémon Go would be a hit no matter what.
But there is more to the game besides nostalgia which is driving its monumental launch and continued growth. Nintendo and developer Niantic have managed to create the next evolution in mobile gaming.
The power of nostalgia versus a great app
Undoubtedly, nostalgia played a huge part in Pokémon Go launching out of the gate like it was using quick attack. There is an entire generation of people in their mid-twenties and early 30s who devoured all things Pokémon when it first released in the U.S. in 1998, and have now spent years envisioning what hunting Pokémon would be like. When Pokémon Go was first announced in late 2015, it appeared to make those dreams become a reality.
People however are picky, especially with the applications they put on their mobile phone. As SimilarWeb notes in their overview of the game’s usage, most people delete unwanted apps after 3 to 7 days. In contrast, Pokémon Go has a high retention rate and coming up on the week anniversary of its release, that is a good sign.
However, nostalgia only has so much pull. Pokémon Go can attribute its success not just to being the culmination of 20 years of childhood dreams, but to being an excellent app. While the launch has had some problems, like server overload, people finding dead bodies, or Pokémon appearing in inappropriate places, it is still a well-crafted game, one which uses alternate reality technology like never before.
This usage of augmented reality technology is a game changer, and when combined with the adorably designed character models, it helps to fuel the passion that many have for playing the game. There is a pavlovian response to many of the actions in the game, especially when a Pokémon is captured or a new one is discovered. The screen flashes, stats are displayed, and the player gets to enjoy a feeling of accomplishment that is enhanced by the image of capturing a monster that they’ve always imagined, juxtaposed on the real world.
Evolving away from micro transactions
Most significantly the game manages to avoid one of the greatest gripes of mobile gamers: the dreaded micro transaction. This writer has spent the full week with the game, and never felt the need to purchase more supplies as he went along. Littered throughout the map are designated Poké Stops, which distribute Poké balls, health, and other supplies. Because of this there is no fatigue or feeling like the game is constantly demanding money, a problem which plagues many mobile games and which can lead to a free game feeling like a scam.
This is not to say that Pokémon Go does not have micro transactions. The game features the ability to buy new items, like Poké balls or Pokémon lures, which can be used to capture new monsters. It is these transactions which ensured that Nintendo earned as much as they have in a relatively short time frame. What is important to note is that those transactions are not necessary for playing the game.
Where other games have found revenue in either micro transactions, like reigning champ Candy Crush Saga, or relied on pop up ads, Pokémon Go has found a unique combination of the two. Geektime speculated on Wednesday that Niantic might allow business’ to pay to become Stops or Gyms, which was confirmed later in the day by Niantic chief executive John Hanke. Already players seem to have discovered the first of such sponsored locations in the games code, which points towards a partnership with McDonalds.
This type of sponsored content is actually part of Niantic’s game plan. Their last major release, the augmented reality game Ingres — which is itself a predecessor of Pokémon Go (the data used for mapping and placing Poké stops and Gyms comes from the Ingress data) — had sponsored weapons and locations.
This unique combination of optional, unobtrusive micro transactions and sponsorships from major corporations seems to be a win for everyone involved. Just as I don’t have to buy additional supplies from the game, I don’t have to buy a Big Mac from McDonalds if I stop to get more Poké balls — however I might need a coke if I keep going out in this scorching heat.
A digital game in a real world
Pokémon Go’s business model, together with the inherent joy that it gives its millennial users, has already given Nintendo a massive pay off. It has provided a struggling company with a large windfall of profit, and has given its users the fulfillment of a fantasy. It is this success, along with innovative AR technology, that will fuel the evolution of mobile gaming.
Pokémon Go proves that mobile games can not only get people off the couch and socializing, but also be fulfilling for developers, advertisers and the user.