‘Poke­mon Go’ fer­vor has cooled, but game not dead yet

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - MARKETPLACE - By Mae An­der­son AP Tech­nol­ogy Writer

NEW YORK >> Does “Poke­mon Go” have a sec­ond act?

The mo­bile phone app was an in­stant hit when it de­buted in July. Crowds stam­peded af­ter a Va­poreon in Cen­tral Park and peo­ple fell off cliffs play­ing it in Cal­i­for­nia.

At an Ap­ple event on Sept. 7, Niantic CEO John Hanke said 500 mil­lion peo­ple had down­loaded the game in just two months. It was the first mo­bile game to go main­stream in a big way since “Candy Crush” in 2014 or “An­gry Birds” in 2012. It was also the first to in­cor­po­rate aug­mented re­al­ity, a blend­ing of the real and vir­tual worlds.

But the buzz has de­cid­edly cooled. Last Tues­day, the game ended its reign as the top-gross­ing U.S. iPhone app af­ter 74 days on top, re­placed by “Clash Royale,” a pop­u­lar bat­tling game, ac­cord­ing to re­search firm Sen­sor Tower. Twit­ter men­tions of the game peaked at 1.7 mil­lion on July 11, five days af­ter its launch, ac­cord­ing to Adobe Dig­i­tal In­sights. That num­ber had fallen by 98 per­cent, to 131,000, by Sept. 7, when Ap­ple fea­tured it.

Was it all a sum­mer fever dream? While ex­perts say the game is likely to re­main pop­u­lar for a while, it needs to evolve to have real stay­ing power — just like its name­sake dig­i­tal crea­tures.

“Al­most any­thing of this sort is a fad,” says Steve Jones, a com­mu­ni­ca­tions pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Illi­nois at Chicago. “I think we’ve seen the ta­per­ing off.”

Down but not out

Of course, an enor­mous num­ber of peo­ple still play the game. Re­search firm App Annie es­ti­mates 1 in 10 smart­phone own­ers in the U.S. are play­ing; in Ja­pan, that num­ber is 1 in 4. Those U.S. fig­ures are half what App Annie saw the week af­ter the game launched — but to put them in per­spec­tive, they still re­flect roughly the same user in­ter­est as Twit­ter or Pin­ter­est.

“Poke­mon Go” has also been good at keep­ing peo­ple play­ing af­ter sign­ing up. Its 30-day re­ten­tion rate is the sec­ond best on the Google Play store — be­hind “Words with Friends,” but ahead of other pop­u­lar games such as “Clash of Clans” and “Clash Royale.”

“For a gam­ing app to be as big as a so­cial net­work is un­prece­dented,” said Fa­bien-Pierre Ni­co­las, a spokesman at App Annie. “Right now, yes, they’re los­ing a mil­lion play­ers ev­ery week. But they get a mil­lion new play­ers ev­ery week.”

The longer users in­ter­act with the game, the more time a com­pany has to fig­ure out how to get money from them, Ni­co­las said. It took a year for some suc­cess­ful games like “Clash of Clans,” ‘’Puz­zle” and “Dragon” to earn rev­enue of $1 bil­lion, but “Poke­mon Go” has al­ready made more than $500 mil­lion in rev­enue in two months alone, ac­cord­ing to App Annie. The game is free, but lets users pur­chase items in the game.

‘Poke­mon Go’ evo­lu­tion

But with so­cial chat­ter dy­ing down and a new smart­phone game based on a beloved 1990s char­ac­ter — “Su­per Mario Run” — hit­ting app stores in De­cem­ber, Poke­mon will have to rein­vent it­self.

Kari Amarosso, a public re­la­tions man­ager at Ari­zona State Univer­sity, started play­ing “Poke­mon Go” with her 19-year-old son as a fun mother-son sum­mer ac­tiv­ity sparked by 1990s Poke­mon-card nos­tal­gia. They’d go to the mall or to mee­tups like one in Tempe, Ari­zona, where thou­sands of peo­ple walked around Tempe Town Lake cap­tur­ing dig­i­tal mon­sters.

But the al­lure wore off af­ter about six weeks, she said. “I lost in­ter­est or just plain for­got to play,” she says — and her son has stopped as well. “His route doesn’t change much from work, to home, and he lost in­ter­est,” she says.

Niantic has been try­ing to freshen things up. In Septem­ber it in­tro­duced a “buddy” sys­tem, al­low­ing users to pair up with a Poke­mon to scoop up game cur­rency called “candy.” It has also de­buted an Ap­ple Watch app and in­tro­duced a $35 wear­able de­vice, Poke­mon Go Plus, which lights up and vi­brates when you’re near a Pokestop or a newly ap­peared Poke­mon.

Niantic did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

Hasn’t caught them all

Jones sug­gests the com­pany needs to do more to keep peo­ple in­ter­ested — for ex­am­ple, by adding some kind of so­cial el­e­ment so that play­ers can in­ter­act with each other. His two teenage sons, he notes, have grown slightly less en­chanted with the game.

“Young peo­ple are used to do­ing so­cial me­dia and there isn’t re­ally mes­sag­ing as part of the game,” Jones said. There have been per­sis­tent ru­mors that Niantic plans to let play­ers trade cap­tured Poke­mon with one an­other, although the com­pany hasn’t com­mented on that.

The big chal­lenge for “Poke­mon Go” is to avoid the fate of “Candy Crush,” says Pace Univer­sity mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sor Larry Chi­agouris. Cre­ated by King Dig­i­tal, “Candy Crush” be­cause a smash hit; Ac­tivi­sion Bl­iz­zard sub­se­quently bought King for $5.9 bil­lion. But while peo­ple still play the game, the fer­vor around it has died down.

When the game was at its peak, “you were get­ting in­vited to play Candy Crush ev­ery day” on Facebook, he said. “You don’t get too many in­vi­ta­tions to play Candy Crush any­more.”

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

“Poke­mon Go” play­ers be­gin a group walk July 20 along the Em­bar­cadero in San Fran­cisco. “Poke­mon Go” was an in­stant hit when it de­buted in July, as mil­lions of peo­ple dis­cov­ered aug­mented re­al­ity and joined stam­pedes from Cen­tral Park to Syd­ney cap­tur­ing Poke­mon via their phones. But as the hype sub­sides, what’s next for the game?

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