Does Pokemon GO Have Staying Power?

Pokemon GO is a monster, in more ways than one. It’s a phenomenon that we’ve never seen in mobile gaming. For the few weeks that it’s been out, it has saturated the media. We’ve read stories of people falling off of cliffs. We’ve read stories of people selling their Pokemon GO accounts on eBay for thousands. We’ve seen stabbings. And we’ve seen Nintendo stock fly through the roof and then plummet again.

The short of it is, this thing is getting out of control.

How long can Pokemon GO’s popularity last?

Everywhere you turn there is a story about Pokemon GO. Although signups and usage have yet to dip, there are reports of people who have already caught them all. In the coming weeks, more will finish the game. So what’s next?

Obviously, the Pokemon Company will add new Pokemon and expand Pokestops. That will in the short term keep fans playing. But how long can you catch Pokemon? Our culture is notorious for its short attention span. As late night talk shows and BuzzFeed posts continue to mock the fad, interest will likely wane. Pokemon GO would have to make significant changes to adapt to their users if they are going to keep them interested in the long run.

Take Angry Birds, another wildly popular mobile game, as an example. At one point Angry birds had 30 million daily active users. Estimates for Pokemon GO’s daily active users is a conservative 9.5 million. Angry Birds was a monster itself. The Angry Birds’ strategy for maintaining users was to create spin off games like Angry Birds Seasons and themed versions like the Star Wars Angry Birds series. And it worked for a time. Worked well enough to spawn an Angry Birds film, that did well at the box office.

But interest died on Angry Birds. In 2014, they had lost 63 million players and were down to 200 million, a huge fall. In the last year, they’ve cut a huge part of their workforce.

Rovio and Angry Birds is a great example of what we should expect to see with Pokemon GO.

Here Come the Businesses

When things like Pokemon GO happen, everyone wants to get their hands in it to make a little money for themselves.(Some we’ll have write blogs about it hopes of traffic.) Businesses are no different. Restaurants and other businesses have figured out how to bring Pokemon GO users into their businesses with inexpensive lures. I imagine this is killing the game’s creators because there is likely a white board or phase two plan in the works to bring businesses on board.

charizardLet’s imagine that scenario though. If you’re a big Pokemon GO fan and now you know in order to catch the elusive Charizard you have to go into Papa John’s Pizza and order 2 medium pizzas with a 2 liter bottle of Sierra Mist. Then John’s going to hand over a code that will give you directions to Charizard’s location but wait, you have to post how much you loved Sierra Mist on Twitter to get an incubator. And if you’re really adventurous, you’ll create a video on Snapchat of you eating the pizza with the Papa John’s logo prominently displayed and in return you are automatically the champion of your local Pokemon gym. Would you keep playing?

In app purchases are a reality for all mobile gamers, but most gamers don’t want to have to interact with corporations to get their fix. They will. I’m not saying they’re above it. But gamers, despite everyone’s opinion on them, do have integrity and do respect the games they play. Pokemon GO will need to be creative with the business interactions to keep their users interested.

Where Does That Leave Us?

History has told us that Pokemon GO will fade out as other popular games like Angry Birds and Candy Crush have before it. Is it possible that they can maintain their popular? Sure but not likely. Even if they were to somehow transition to a more interactive social site with chat features and communities, it wouldn’t help. Facebook is losing users. Twitter is slowing down. Instagram is less popular. Snapchat is starting to plateau.

The reality is that mobile gaming and mobile app usage is becoming a fad based industry with huge highs and low lows. They can become longterm businesses. We know that Facebook will be around for awhile, as will Twitter but they will likely become the old men in Silicon Valley. They’ll be the Oracles of our generation.

The important thing is to not overstate the longterm impact of a fad. Pokemon GO is the latest, but any hyperbolic rhetoric that paints it as the next stage in mobile gaming, is just an attempt to inflate the stock and make a quick buck by the more savvy Wall Street types who always win.

Don’t get sucked in.