Since the advent of mobile gaming, few titles have been as wildly popular as the Pokemon franchise.
After launching in July 2016 in select countries around the world, Pokemon Go garnered more downloads in its first week than any other app on the App Store ever.
“When it first came out in the summer of 2016, I instantly became addicted,” senior Elijah Rieders says. “I would pretty much only do that … It was a great experience, great time, lots of fun. Wasted a lot of time, but still mad fun.”
Junior Vincent Mangubat echoes this sentiment.
“I just remember playing it all summer,” Mangubat says. “I would go out to Dover with my friends ever other or every three weeks and play — sometimes until midnight — and there were other people there too.”
Pokemon Go’s initial success can be attributed to a number of factors. The game’s history and its host of new, never-before-seen features, like its environmental interactivity, were the most enticing draws.
According to Associate Professor Phillip Penix-Tadsen, who teaches and helps design new classes for the game studies minor here at the university, part of the appeal lies in a special part of gaming history.
Whereas the first U.S. gaming companies had their roots in tech, Japan—where Pokemon Go’s creator, Nintendo, is headquartered—developed differently.
“In Japan, it was toy companies. Nintendo was a playing card company. That made for a really different feel to their games,” Penix-Tadsen says. “Nintendo has a kind of cartoony aesthetic that it’s known for.” says Penix-Tadsen.
For many students, the significance of Nintendo and Pokemon is derived from nostalgia. In addition to the memories it brings, Pokemon Go also represents an evolution in the franchise and the industry itself.
“The game is pretty much one of a kind. It brought one of the biggest franchises in the history of video games to life” Rieders says. “Video games are usually something that are not very social at all, but when [Pokemon Go] was really big, you would constantly see groups, crowds all excited like ‘oh this pokemon is over there! let’s go for it’ and stuff like what team you were on. It pretty much just brought people together, and it brought people who weren’t very active to being out in public doing things and interacting with other people.”
Mangubat believes the overall popularity was a product of the game’s wide accessibility.
“It was something new, especially considering the fact that anyone could play this game, even people who have never played Pokemon,” Mangubat says.
With five Guinness World records and 500 million downloads by September of 2016, the game showed no signs of slowing down. But as students like Mangubat and Rieders returned to campus in the fall, the once massive game slowly began losing its steam.
Users here on campus and around the world began encountering many of the games more frustrating aspects, revealing its dimmed chances for long-term success.
“I think the repetition was just obnoxious in that game, and it took them [Niantic, the game’s developer] so long to advance in adding new features like next-generation Pokemon and legendaries,” Rieders says. “You would literally have to capture the same pokemon over and over in order to level them up, and you’d just be walking around the same area.”
Penix-Tadsen adds that, while the charm of games like Pokemon Go is certainly real, they ultimately lack the depth to maintain users over time.
“We talk in my class about games with a motion controller, like Dance Dance Revolution or even [Nintendo] Wii games like Bowling. They have a certain appeal, but its limited relative to the appeal of videogames in general and ones you can sit and play with a controller specifically” Penix-Tadsen says. “There’s excitement about the novelty, especially with this being the first big AR game that anyone has played, but it might be healthy to recognize that there is kind of a limitation to how much people are going to invest in it in the long run.”
In the year that has passed since the game’s launch, daily active users have dropped significantly. As of February of this year, the daily active user rate hovers around five million, which is down from its 28.5 million peak.
Going forward, there are lessons to be gleaned from the rise and fall of Pokemon Go.
“That fad-like popularity is kind of an important element for an AR game that is at least partially crowd-based, when more people are playing, it’s a better game” says Penix-Tadsen. “I wouldn’t expect a game like that to be popular forever, so I think it is a good model for future AR games.”