‘Pokemon Go’: From April Fools’ Joke to International Sensation

     July 11, 2016


If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’re not playing Pokémon Go; there’s probably just as good a chance that you are playing, you’re just waiting for your local Poké Stop to restock its items. What started as an April Fools’ Day joke by Google has turned into a phenomenon based on Nintendo’s pocket monster franchise that has been going strong since 1995. Pokémon Go, the mobile, augmented reality (AR) game from Niantic that allows players to capture and train virtual creatures known as Pokémon in the real world was released only a few short days ago but is already making a strong impression on social media and in actual, real-world society as well. While most of this popularity has been positive – players are interacting with each other in the real world for once and getting exercise while they do it – there are some who have already used the game’s mechanics to lure unsuspecting trainers to a location with the aim of robbing them.

We’ll take a look at the effect that Pokémon Go has had in its first week, its potentially trendsetting success, its sociocultural impact, and how the gameplay statistics suggest a very strong debut that might be difficult to sustain over the long run, though the game’s success could conceivably continue for a very long time. While Pokémon Go starts off by offering up the original 151 Kanto creatures to catch and train, there are well over 700 in the Pokémon universe, with more debuting thanks to Pokémon Sun and Moon editions debuting this fall, giving the mobile game a lot of opportunity for future expansion.


Image via Niantic

First, let’s take a look at the numbers. Currently, the app is only available in the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand; in the U.S. alone, it was installed on over 5% of all Android devices within two days of its release. (For a very specific comparison, that’s more than Tinder.) But as Silicon Valley taught us, success isn’t measured just in installs, but in active engagement. With that metric in mind, Pokémon Go is being used daily by over 60% of those who installed it; that puts it just behind (and poised to overtake) Twitter. That’s crazy, especially considering that most people playing Pokémon Go seem to be tweeting about it as well. When it comes to time spent using the app per day (and draining your phone’s battery life), Similar Web’s data shows that, “as of July 8th, the app was being used for an average of 43 minutes, 23 seconds a day, higher than Whatsapp, Instagram, Snapchat, and Messenger.” And since the app is so popular but not yet available elsewhere in the world, programs designed to bypass the official download store have been quite busy in the last few days. Despite that, Nintendo’s stock is currently surging with the game’s top placement in app stores, with an added value of $7.5 billion.

So while Nintendo’s stockholders are now richer than Giovanni, the game is actually doing wonders for ordinary people’s activity levels. Yes, they’re playing a game on their phone, but they’re actually having to walk relatively long distances (compared to the distance between the couch and the fridge) in order to track down Pokémon, stock up on supplies, and drop off their critters to defend the local gym. Forbes has a decent write-up for those of you just getting started with the game, but you don’t have to know much about it to enjoy the great outdoors and the exercise benefits your exploration brings. Now, be aware that it might take you to some strange places, and, as always, please be careful to mind your surroundings. Local authorities in Australia have already posted a word of caution and a common-sense reminder to Poké trainers, and others have suffered tumbles, scrapes, and bruises whilst distracted in their search. Vigilance (of the real world, not the digital one) is essential; you might stumble across a dead body, or prevent yourself from becoming the victim of a robbery.

I love that Pokémon has found a resurgence in popularity in a way that capitalizes on modern technology and brings fans of all kinds together, and it’s great to see just how successful the game has been in its earliest days. There are some kinks to work out, for sure, but if the developers can address issues from players, keep the content fresh, and grow the community, Pokémon Go could be going for years and years. Will it ever be as popular as it is right now? Actually, yes, since the game is expected to rollout in the U.K., Europe, Japan, and other Asian countries in the coming days. So the real question is, just how big will Pokémon Go eventually get? Tracking the data for the game once it gets into as many hands as possible will be the best way to predict its longevity, and keeping an eye on just how many copycat games emerge over the next few months will help to mark Pokémon Go as a trendsetter. Until then, be safe, have fun, and best of luck in catching them all!


Image via Niantic

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