I’m one of those people who is still playing Pokémon Go, the location-based mobile game that set the world on fire in July 2016. If you ask me why, I’ll have to say that I really don’t know why. It’s not because it has addictive gameplay.
Sometimes we play games for a long time, and it isn’t easy to explain why. We’re always a little sheepish when someone asks how many hours we’ve put into it. I don’t know why, but I’ve walked hundreds of kilometers with Pokémon Go over the past two years. Yet I was never much of a Pokémon fan before Niantic Labs‘ game came along.
I’m not alone in this habit. Pokémon Go has made more than $1.9 billion in gross player spending since launching two years ago this month, according to measurement firm Sensor Tower. In terms of unique installs of one per Apple ID or Google account, it has been downloaded more than 500 million times (The Pokémon Company’s figure is more than 800 million). The game grossed approximately $70 million in June 2018 and $182.5 million in the last quarter, making it the No. 8 grossing game in June and the No. 7 grossing in 2Q18. And in June, market researcher SuperData Research said Pokémon Go had its biggest number of players in two years.
As far as gameplay goes, I’ve played more exciting mobile games like Clash Royale, Dawn of Titans, and HQ Trivia. I’ve dropped Pokémon Go to play games like Westworld, and sometimes I’ve stayed away for a long time. But I’ve always come back to it, like a security blanket. It’s kind of like how World of Warcraft players keep going back to their game when it receives a new update. And Niantic keeps doing enough on the update front to make the game feel fresh enough to return to.
I’m sure that rivals in mobile gaming underestimated the power of Pokémon Go, as it seemed like a simple game that was easy to beat.
With Pokémon Go, I think it’s a whole collection of mini motivators, including some that have nothing to do with gaming. My dog, for instance, has to be walked. A big park with nine PokéStops is within walking distance of my house, and that makes it easier for me to make progress in the game. And often Pokémon Go is the only way I can get close to 30 minutes of exercise in a day. I’m obsessed with getting those walks in, since I can see results on my Apple Watch.
Niantic Labs created the app in part because its creators feared we had too much screen time, sitting at our desks. It got us sedentary gamers off the couch and walking around outside. With me, the chance to improve my physical fitness was a key motivator. At other times, I play out of boredom, like I don’t have enough other good games to play on mobile devices.
Part of the point was to turn interesting city landmarks into PokéStops so that we could visit them and learn some more about our surroundings. It could make us more civic-minded. But I’ll admit that this motivator rarely works on me, as I don’t often inspect the landmark details.
I also played early on to connect with my children. Some days, all of us played it. Early on, we marveled at going to a park in Cupertino and seeing almost everybody playing the game. But the game was so obviously limited when it first debuted. In contrast to Pokémon games on handheld devices, it didn’t have most of the Pokémon creatures. It lacked a lot of things, like combat between human players.
Niantic has steadily updated the game with features like weather effects, new Pokémon, and raid battles. The developers have added most of the things that players have asked for, such as team player combat (via raids in Gyms), events, friendships, and trading. Such “live operations” are the kind of thing that mobile game developers do in order to retain audiences and keep revenues going for almost all mobile games now.
My daughter stopped playing because her old iPhone ran out of memory. But then she picked up again when she got an iPhone 8. I started collecting Pokémon Go friends recently after she friended me and sent me my first gift. Now I’ve got 20 friends (my friend code is 1395 9151 9567), and they regularly send me gifts that are geographically tagged. Once in a while I look at where they’re sending it from, and I send gifts to them in return. Again, it’s a little thing that serves as a mini motivator.
During my walks, I collect Poké Balls and other items at the PokéStops, and I use them trying to catch Pokémon creatures. For a long time, I used the augmented reality view (which overlays the creature on the real world), but then my kid showed me how to turn it off and save my battery life. The AR wasn’t that impressive for a long time, and it improved last December as Niantic Labs added Apple’s ARKit. But we’ll probably have to wait until the next generation before we’ll get really good AR. I have confidence that Niantic Labs will deliver real AR in the future thanks to a bunch of acquisitions.
I like to show off my numbers, even though my stats aren’t that impressive as far as longtime players go. I’ve been playing since day one, or July 8, 2016. And I’ve amassed total XP, or experience points, of 1,288,629. I have visited 2,901 PokéStops and caught 2,782 Pokémon. That puts me at Level 27, but my friend Elizabeth Olson is at Level 33. I’ve captured hundreds of Pokémon types, but I still have lots to go.
I take some pride in having caught Pokémon all around the world, including in Montreal, Barcelona, Tokyo, Maui, Los Angeles, Seattle, Berlin, London, and elsewhere. But you won’t catch me walking 10,000 steps just to play Pokémon Go. And I don’t do it every day, partly because I don’t remember to do so.
Unlike a lot of fans, I haven’t spent any money in the game. I can replenish my items thanks to the presence of PokéStops, and I never feel the need to spend. But I share my results on social media, and that’s probably worth something to Niantic and The Pokémon Company International, which can always find ways to monetize social awareness.
Some of the updates have kept me going, like the addition of raids. Early on, I didn’t have enough strong creatures to fight with other characters in gyms. But now that I do, I’ll stop, walk in circles, battle the Gym’s defenders and take it over for my comrades at Instinct, the yellow team. I haven’t participated in any big events yet, but I might do that if one came to my town.
Niantic is working on a Harry Potter AR game. That might pull me away, particularly if it’s better AR. But right now, I gotta catch ’em all.