Pokémon GO can be described as the ultimate surprise and phenomenon of 2016. Never before have I seen such a followership for a mobile game, not to mention one that ultimately brings people together in the real world rather than diverting them. When the mobile app’s success reached its peak, nobody expected it to be off the table any time soon. Now, usage is plummeting – so much that I don’t even know a single person who’s still playing. Coincidence? Maybe, but I’m quite certain that there are several very good reasons for the GO hype being a thing of the past.
The early days of Pokémon GO
How did Pokémon GO even amass that many players in such a short amount of time? The simple concept of supply and demand played a huge role in this scenario. Honestly, given their efforts in PR, I don’t expect the guys at Niantic to have a degree in economics, but the way they’ve rolled out the app can only be a product of sheer stupidity, or clever calculation. I mean – why would you consider launching an app in two small markets, even though knowing exactly that there’s dozens of workarounds for people to get their hands on the game early, which inevitably overburdens servers to the point of full crashes? Personally, I even created an Australian iTunes account, just to be one of the first players to experience this exciting new piece of software fueled by nostalgia and modern technology. In the time before its official global launch, Pokémon GO was the trendy and hot thing that you can’t acquire that easily – this made sure that the game always stayed at the forefront of your mind. Called artificial scarcity, this concept is proven to raise the value of your product – the best example was the launch of the Nintendo Wii, where production was held back, only to make sure that people buy the console at first sight.
It’s getting messy
After clarifying why Pokémon GO became so popular in the first place, we must figure out where the recent plunge came from. GO might be a phenomenon, but it is still a game, and games are still bound to the rules of progression. Have you ever collected soccer stickers when you were young? Getting your first one feels great, but the rate to re-experience this amazing feeling continually drops with each and every pack you open. This very concept applies to Pokémon GO as well, except for the problem of GO being an incomplete game. If you want to „collect them all“, you have to wait for Niantic to release another update – one that might not be coming any time soon. Imagine this would be the case for our soccer stickers. Would you buy and open any more packs, if you know that it’s not even possible to get Messi yet? Sounds pretty messy to me.
Another problem with Niantic’s method of releasing updates lies within the nature of the game. When you pace the progression for a singleplayer game, say Grand Theft Auto, it’s not exactly wrong to reward efforts more in the beginning than towards the end. With Pokémon GO, however, you’re not only confronted in the living room, so your surroundings constantly remember you to take out your phone and play. When your environment suggests putting time into your game, you will naturally spend more time with it, leading to a faster pace of progression. At the moment, Niantic is not able to keep up with that pace. Being far into the game leads to a point where it feels like it doesn’t value and reward your efforts without any sight of improvement. You instantly lose incentive to progress any further, and as you move away from your game, friends will also, due to this chain reaction of being heavily influenced by your social environment. Players might find their way back after new content patches are released, but after all, it’s always harder to jump back into something you haven’t pick up for a while.
So is Pokémon GO dead? Certainly not, as there are still multiple social events accumulating massive crowds and shutting down cellular networks. These players who still throw their ten-thousandth Pokéball at a worthless Pidgey tend to spend, and these are also the players keeping the lights on at Niantic. Since its pinnacle with the first generation 20 years ago, Pokémon was always coming back for more, but never really left us completely. Pokémon GO will share this fate, up to the point when people stop playing – and even then, Nintendo can celebrate introducing a whole new generation to their most beloved brand.