Pokemon Go - Have we reached the peak?

The phenomenon of Pokemon Go has taken the world by storm. Although a global phenomenon, the smartphone game is especially popular in megacities such as Hong Kong and New York , where crowds of thousands of people have engaged in virtual stampedes as they chase down rare characters such as Vaperons and Snorlaxes. Indeed, as with other social media applications, the enthusiasm for the interactive game has created a kind of network effect as more and more people are being caught up in the craze. Released in a limited number of locations in July 2016, it is now reported that Pokemon Go has more users than Twitter. According to TechCrunch journalist Sarah Perez, by the first week in August Pokemon Go had been installed on 100 million phones worldwide. The game’s popularity is also confirmed by Google search rankings. Search results data reveals that the term ‘Pokemon Go’ continues to be more popular than the search term ‘porn,’ which usually tops Google’s search rankings.

Developed by American tech company, Niantic, which began as startup incubator under the Google umbrella, the game was inspired by the tech giant’s 2014 April Fools joke. In the now-famous gag which involved the collaboration of Nintendo’s Satoru Iwata and Tsunekazu Ishihara of The Pokémon Company, Google maps was pinned with Pokemon icons which users could search for in the same way one plays Where’s Waldo. In this basic version, users did not interact with the characters. They would simply pin or tap on the Pokemon icon they way they would any other location marker.

John Hanke, the founder of Niantic, who had previously developed a successful geolocation based game called Ingress, immediately saw the potential in Google’s gag. He seized the opportunity to fully develop its potential as a game that could fuse both the virtual and physical worlds. In some ways Pokemon Go is like a virtualized form of the popular pastime, Geocaching, in which players use their gps-enabled phones or other navigational techniques to either hide or find physical containers, called “geocaches” at specific locations marked by coordinates around the world. In Pokemon Go, players use their phones to engage with a whole realm of virtual creatures called Pokemon which are embedded in a virtual realm that is also linked to a physical location. Like Hanke’s earlier game, Ingress, Pokemon Go is part the trend towards transrelality in gaming. Essentially, transreality is an innovation that combines both a virtual environment with actual physical experiences in the real world.

While one of the most interesting and innovative aspects Pokemon Go is the fact that it blends the real and virtual worlds, Pokemon Go also has an important social media aspect. The game allows users to interact with each other, creating a feeling of community and sociability among people playing the game. Players on the hunt for Pokemon often encounter one another while they are out scouring a particular neighbourhood for Pokemon. As happened in New York when a crowd of over a thousand people raced into Central Park in search of a rare Vaperon people’s enthusiasm for Pokemon can go a bit too far!

While the public is delighting in this latest distraction, investors are also reaping the rewards. Nintendo, which owns about a 30% share in the app, has seen its stock price rise dramatically. Jumping on the band-wagon, there have also been slew of new products that have been designed for Pokemon Go users. Nintendo has launched the Pokemon Go Plus Wristband, which connects to a smartphone via Bluetooth, and signals to players when a Pokémon appears nearby. This reduces the risk that players might endanger themselves by looking for Pokemon while crossing busy streets or while driving. Players can also then catch the Pokémon or perform other simple actions by pressing the buttons on the wristband.

Targeting true Pokemon fanatics, TRNDlabs have created a customized miniature drone than enables players to access Pokémon in more challenging locations. Developers Braydon Batungbacal and Nick DiVona have created a Poké Radar map, which enables users to search for rare Pokémon anywhere in the world on Google Maps. The mapping tool is collaborative project run by the Pokémon GO community. When a player clicks on a Pokémon’s icon, they are able to see who posted the tip and how many other players found the tip helpful.

As with other fads and crazes, it remains to be seen how long the popularity of Pokemon will endure. Almost two months after the initial launch of the game, there are some signs of fatigue. Data compiled by Axiom Capital Management indicates that Pokemon Go’s Daily Active Users (DAUs) peaked at 45 million users on 17 July but had fallen to 30 million by mid-August. The data also suggests that engagement and time spent on the app per day are also declining. Now, as balmy summer days give way to increasingly long and cold nights, it is reasonable to wonder if we have reached peak Pokemon?