Pokémon GO retention: No, it’s not facing a player loyalty crisis

By Mike Sonders

Pokémon GO retention has been a hot topic, lately.

Upon the three month anniversary of Pokémon Go’s launch in the U.S., media coverage of the social game phenomenon has largely transitioned from breathless touting of mobile game records to reporting on the game’s decline, lost users, and lapsed trainers.

You’d almost think that Pokémon GO was a flash in the pan. That it now slogs along with a mere fraction of its former user base.

The “fall from glory” storyline certainly lends itself to a good headline, but does it tell the full story?

To find out if things are really as dire as they seem for the future of Niantic’s hit game, we’re using app intelligence insights from SurveyMonkey Intelligence to compare Pokémon GO’s retention rate on U.S. smartphones against those of other smash-hit games.

Pokémon GO retention

Pokémon GO player retention shortly after launch

We first took a look at Pokémon GO’s retention in mid-July shortly after we identified it as the biggest mobile phone game in U.S. history in terms of daily active users (DAU).

Further, Pokémon GO’s early retention results couldn’t have looked much better. At the time, roughly 7 out of 10 people who downloaded the game returned to it the next day.

For context, the average rate of day-after-install return (usually termed “day 1” or “D1” retention) is closer to 3 out of 10 returners for mobile games.

We asked an experienced mobile games industry executive for a reaction to this data, and he responded, “I’ve never seen anything close to that. Phenomenal.” (This person asked not to be named, since mobile game companies closely guard their retention data.)

As the inventor of (flash in the pan) smash-hit game Draw Something pointed out, Pokémon GO’s success is unusual because the game’s virality is primarily driven by old fashioned word of mouth.

Unlike Draw Something or Words with Friends, there is no pressure to find or invite friends to succeed in the game. Without this social compulsion in the game, it’s possible that retention could drop as the gameplay gets monotonous.

Pokémon GO player retention three months after launch

So is Pokémon GO’s player retention rate dropping, now that the hype has died down and fatigue has had a chance to affect early adopters?

The short answer is, “Yes.” Over time, fewer Pokémon GO users who play the game during one 7-day period are showing up to play in the following 7-day period.

We call this rate of lost players “weekly churn.” (Conversely, the rate of players who do show up in two consecutive one-week periods is “weekly retention.”) And over the past months, Pokémon GO’s weekly churn rate has been gradually increasing (while the retention rate decreases).

But that isn’t the full story.

To see whether the Pokémon GO retention rate is particularly bad, we pulled data from SurveyMonkey Intelligence on four other top mobile games.

Candy Crush Saga, Words with Friends, Subway Surfers, and Clash of Clans are the most popular smartphone game apps in the country (behind Pokémon GO) in terms of monthly active users (MAU).

Each of these games has been around for years and has undergone many rounds of optimization for many metrics… including player retention.

In other words, these are the gold standards in terms of mobile game performance.

And Pokémon GO’s retention rate falls solidly in the middle of the pack when compared to the rates of these top mobile game performers.

So Pokémon GO isn’t have a player retention crisis. In fact, in terms of how well it’s keeping its users, it’s performing very much like a typical top mobile game.

In this context, the difference between Pokémon GO and every other top game is that Pokémon GO has a lot more players to lose:

Pokémon GO is still a monster in terms of monthly active users. Only within the past month did its MAU drop below Twitter’s on U.S. smartphones. It still absolutely eclipses all other top games.

Let’s compare Pokémon GO to Clash of Clans–since they have very similar weekly user retention rates–to illustrate a point:

  • According to our data, Clash of Clans currently has ~3.85 million weekly active users (WAU). With a weekly retention rate of 75% (a weekly churn rate of 25%), Clash loses ~960 thousand players from week to week.
  • Pokémon GO has 15.4 million weekly active users. With a weekly retention rate of 75%, it loses ~3.9 million users from week to week.

So Pokémon GO–since it’s so massive–currently loses four times the number of players from week to week vs. Clash of Clans even though they have almost exactly the same user retention rate.

Extrapolate these numbers over the course of a few months and you can see how Pokémon GO loses tens of millions of active players, even with a perfectly-respectable retention rate.

Those losses prompt news stories about Pokémon GO’s decline and lost users, which–while perfectly accurate–are far from telling the whole story, as we’ve tried to illustrate.

Side note: Mobile game publishers often try to replace churned users by (re-)acquiring users via paid channels (for example). But it’s likely almost impossible–or at least incredibly cost-inefficient–for Pokémon GO to acquire new users fast enough to replace its lost users at this scale, especially after the game saturated so much of the addressable market upon its launch.


Contrary to what you might take away from recent headlines, Pokémon GO’s retention rate is not in trouble. In fact, it’s quite respectable; it’s competitive with those of other top-performing games.

But Pokémon GO has a much larger audience than other games, meaning it’ll lose millions of players from week to week, even with a relatively high retention rate.

As the game sheds some of the casual users caught up in the initial hype and finds a larger proportion of its audience comprised of active, loyal “trainers,” it wouldn’t be surprising for the weekly retention rate to level off, mostly ending its current gradual decline.

In fact, based on current Pokémon GO retention, we wouldn’t be surprised to see Pokémon GO remain one of the most widely-used smartphone games in the U.S. for a long time to come.

This post originally appeared on October 5, 2016 on the blog of SurveyMonkey Intelligence, a provider of competitive intelligence for the mobile app industry.

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