What Happened To All The Pokemon GO Players?

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Pokémon Go is in rapid decline. Since launching in July and soaring in popularity, it had lost at least a third of its daily users by the middle of August. By mid-September, daily revenues had fallen from US$16m per day to US$2m (excluding the 30% app store fee) and daily downloads had declined from a peak of 27 million to 700,000. So what happened?

Many mobile games – especially ones that trigger a worldwide craze – suffer declines in usage over time. Pokémon Go still generates significant revenues. But its precipitous decline has seen it labelled a fad and nicknamed “Pokémon Gone”.

This raises the question of why usage has dropped so steeply, and what other game companies might do differently to retain users. In my opinion, Pokémon Go’s creators Niantic have made several significant missteps. Here are the lessons that other companies can learn.

Have a clear avenue to capitalise quickly

Pokémon Go launched with relatively little actual “game”, and by the end of July was still arguably missing a lot of features.

The launch version enabled players to collect Pokémon characters while out roaming in the real world. But it featured shallower gameplay than its siblings on Nintendo’s gaming platforms. For example, the mechanisms for battling Pokémon were relatively simplistic, with arbitrary-seeming controls. Furthermore, there was no way for people to interact in real time in the game. This is not a problem if the aim is to get as many players to sign up as possible, but it is an issue when trying to keep them interested.

The developers did not introduce new elements quickly enough to stop players getting bored. So far there has been little in the way of new gameplay aspects, with the most significant addition being in the form of hardware: a Pokémon Go wearable device released last month.

The developers have added a new feature that allows players to choose a “buddy Pokémon” to accompany them in-game, which has had a relatively minor impact on in-game mechanics. But by waiting so long after the game’s launch, the developers have missed an opportunity to capitalise on their existing player base.

The obvious lesson for developers is to have a roadmap to enhance the game and keep players interested, especially when the core game itself is not very deep.

Do not remove popular features

Besides failing to introduce new features, Pokémon Go also removed popular ones. This is likely to alienate players, especially if done with little explanation – some commentators have branded the game “broken”.

In Pokémon Go’s case, the feature in question was “Pokémon tracking”. A core aspect of the game is that it creates a virtual representation of the player’s real-world location, which is then populated with Pokémon characters for players to collect by walking around. But to catch Pokémon, players need to know where they are – and without Pokémon tracking, players are left wandering aimlessly and relying on luck to find them.

Pokémon tracking was relatively rudimentary in the game itself, and arguably did not work at all. This led several third parties to create their own Pokémon tracking apps that became crucial to dedicated players. In other words, players accepted the original broken feature because third-party apps let them circumvent it.

However, the developer, Niantic, subsequently disabled these apps by cutting off their data access and sending them “cease and desist” orders. This effectively removed a feature that many players regarded as essential.

The developers have arguably repeated this gaffe by disabling the game for players with “rooted” android devices – a relatively common hack that lets phone users change their administrative settings or bypass restrictions imposed by telecommunications providers.

Pokémon Go has banned rooted devices so as to prevent “geo-spoofing”, whereby players cheat the game by using software to fake their location. But while the goal is valid, the implementation clearly has ramifications for many legitimate users.

The clear lesson is that a company should not remove features without first considering how essential they are to the user experience, and without offering an adequate replacement. This lesson applies not just to gaming but to the wider consumer industry; companies should always know what their customers regard as essential, and should never undermine it without putting in place a clear workaround (or ideally, improvement).

Talk to your customers

Pokémon Go’s decline has been characterised by a consistent lack of communication. The catalyst was arguably the removal of Pokémon tracking. While far from ideal, this could have been managed with better communication, but instead some players were left so disillusioned that they requested refunds.

The developers did not forewarn of major (potentially negative) changes, and did not communicate afterwards, leading to the claim that “silence is killing Pokemon Go”.

This has not been an isolated incident; the developers communicated only intermittently about server outages, offering very little information about why they had happened, how long the disruption was expected to last, or whether it was the work of hackers.

The final lesson is here is that communicating with your customers is paramount, particularly when things go wrong. Otherwise, you risk losing their confidence that you care about them and know how to fix the problem. If you have to make unpopular decisions, at least communicate the reason for those decisions and present a plan to assuage consumers’ concerns.

Where to from here for Pokémon Go?

This all begs the question: how might Pokémon Go attempt to bounce back? This might be challenging, as Pokémon Go would both need to implement new features and make lapsed (and new) users aware of them. One potential option is to increase social events, perhaps involving rare Pokémon placed in a given area. This might also generate more positive word of mouth, increase user engagement, and drive interest.

Pokémon Go could also expand into other markets, potentially rectifying the aforementioned issues when doing so. This includes a possible expansion into China and India. This would be most effective if additional in-game features, such as in game battling, were implemented. In this case, the game could start from a fresh base in new markets, while improving the game in existing markets.

The Conversation

Mark Humphery-Jenner, Associate Professor of Finance, UNSW Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

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Comments

    I stopped playing and went back to Ingress when they removed tracking.

    That was a very dumb move on their parts. If almost 2 decades of MMOs have taught us anything it's most people want games to be *fun* not a grind. Some are hard core, but most are not.

    my next door neighbour is still playing it and has a $500 repair bill for her car for catching pokemon while reversing

    If you ask me, the issue is that the time you play games is when you are still and nothing better to do. Pokemon Go is the complete opposite....

    It only succeeded initially, because you could spoof it while commuting and walk somewhere because you knew a pokemon type was there, then they killed both.

    Its was a Google soft launch, they had no idea or plans to do any more than release the game in its current state. Like most Google products, release it when good enough and make small updates over a long peroid of time... doesnt suit the gaming player focus. Cause of this "google" development approach their long term plans for the game were not planned out in any large detail making further development to keep pace with player demands not possible.

    Their marketing manager was quoted 10 days before in Sydney Australia at the Opera House while hosting a 2000 player Ingress event as saying "Pokemon Go will come out "later" this year"... he didnt know it was coming out the next week.

    They had no marketing research or projections that accurately predicted the games popularity, despite being part of Google and could of you know looked at the analytics of google searches and youtube videos to find it was already the most anticipated mobile game in history.

    They didnt capitalise on the new income and appeal and ramp up development and production... you think a 16 million per day would you know fund more development, no, 4 weeks after release they were still "looking" into hiring a single community manager to assist a stressed out Marketing Manager (who didnt know Pokemon Go was coming out the week after his Sydney junket).

    They didnt factor in grind depression in players, that the lack of updates would reflect in a rapid decline... a well documented fact observed in MMO player bases for decades in Everquest and World of Warcraft and even in more recent titles like Destiny and Division, else they would of invested the millions earned back into development to keep the ball rolling.

      They aren't part of Google. They spun out of Google in 2015. Took me about 10 seconds to look that up. If you can't at least do 10 seconds of legwork before acting like you know what you're talking about, no one will take you seriously.

    i think the best upgrade is, players should be able to see every trainers avatar and buddy walking around,(like uber) you can see the car coming... trainers should be able to chat in game and trainers should be able to trade pokemons. and finally put pokemon radar in the game atleast min radius of 1km, if niantic worried all people will get rare pokemon then make the spawning time shorter, instead of 10 min make it 5min .

    if this happen i think all people will play it, there will be politician and there will be no crime and there will be no more food coz every soul in this planet could be playing it ^_^

    I'd say a vast majority of original players were on the hype train and just downloaded it to see what all the fuss was about then quickly got bored of it.

    The game was fun until you reached level 20 then it became a level grind with no new features and no real fun things to do with the game. The only real achievements come from 10km eggs which most of the time end in disappointment, as well as battling in gyms. Gyms became irrelevent because all the hardcore players who zoomed ahead in the levels all have rare pokemon and have made demolishing gyms almost impossible for typical players. Then if you want to earn coin by leaving pokemon in gyms it again becomes impossible to level the gym up because your pokemon aren't good enough to win.

    Basically you're left with the option to spend $$ on incubators to hatch shitloads of trash tier pokemon which you already have so that you can clear out your eggs and make room for hopefully finding a 10km one -- which will usually end in disappointment, regardless. I persisted with the grind until level 23 and now the "game" is simply a boring chore.

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