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The global success of Niantic Labs’ Pokémon Go is officially a phenomenon, amassing more downloads, headlines, revenue and memes than anyone could have predicted — and creating a live case study for those looking to have the same success.

As brands scramble to align and partner with the game, ultimately hoping to gain revenue from the relationship, it’s time for current and future creators and developers to reflect on the components that led to Pokémon Go’s worldwide success as a viral and seemingly profitable venture.


The real estate mantra rings “Location. Location. Location.” Pokémon Go’s first triumph was targeting an audience where they already were – on their phones. The number of smartphone owners continues to grow globally, leading to a large group of consumers who are accustomed to downloading and engaging with mobile apps. The emergence and evolution of augmented and virtual reality was also timely, as the Pokémon Go app uses computer-generated sensory input to display virtual Pokémon in physical, real-world environments – providing an unintimidating yet fascinating experience.


Pokémon is 20 years old with millions of fans, both old and young. For many within this group of legacy fans, Pokémon was the first foray into Japanese role-playing games, with the experience being enhanced as players immersed themselves into the whole of the Pokémon universe, including the television show, motion pictures, and trading cards. It has connected older millennials, who grew up playing Game Boy and the crackle of dial-up internet, to younger folk who don’t know a world without internet, let alone a world without apps. It is therefore to be expected that combining this established brand with newer technology has allowed Pokémon Go to tap into the millennial fan base in its entirety. Those who grew up with the fictional creatures and have become today’s most mobile-friendly trendsetters.


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Physical-digital blend

As location-based technologies become more mainstream, the digital world will continue to seamlessly mesh into our physical world. However, Pokémon Go has been able to blend the physical and digital on a scale not yet seen. It also doesn’t hurt when Pokémon Go, a game whose focus hinges on the objective of outside exploration, is released during the nicest days of summer.

Business owners have also been able to tap into the phenomenon — inviting players into their establishments, offering ways to continue play and leveraging revenue-driving opportunities, such as discounts for certain Pokémon caught.

A welcoming game

External forces aren’t the sole reasons for Pokémon Go’s success. Its design and mechanics are contributors key. Pokémon Go is a game that prioritizes time above ability. This puts everyone at the same level from the get-go, providing a balanced environment where users can work together to help one another succeed.

The competitive nature of many video games can be a deterrent to casual players. However, Pokémon Go does not have this problem because it is, largely, a positive sum game. When a Pokémon appears, anyone within proximity has the chance to make the capture, not just the first player out of the gate. This has led to a welcoming environment for veterans and newbies alike, with players coming together to share tips and tricks for catching those hard-to-find Pokémon, taking turns setting up lure modules to help attract Pokémon, and banding together to help level up a nearby gym.

Curiosity and community

Once Pokémon Go became a hit with the millennial trendsetters, it rode a wave of curiosity as others downloaded it to see what it was all about. Fear of missing out on the next big thing can be a powerful motivator, but it does little in the way of explaining Pokémon Go’s strong base of over 30 million daily active users — a staggering number that the game achieved less than two weeks after its official launch.

Games have long been an overlooked source of community for young and old alike, and perhaps no game exemplifies this better than Pokémon Go. To see the real world implications of a game capable of bringing a diverse base of users together, one needs to look no further than San Francisco’s Wednesday night Pokémon Go crawl event, which grew to over 9,000 users roaming the streets together in an effort to “catch ‘em all.”


Upon analysis, Pokémon Go’s road to success can be largely attributed to Niantic Labs’ astute ability to blend together so many of the things that make gaming great into a single, all-around user experience that encourages collaboration and exploration. It has taken advantage of our massive reliance on smartphones and deepened that connection.  It has also highlighted the importance of community of the gamer subculture and brought it to the main stream. Growth in the gaming industry cannot be overstated, and Pokémon Go takes an important first step in ensuring that we are cognizant of this reality.  It has succeeded in being the most successful instance of combined augmented reality and virtual reality, and it opened the door for more to follow.

Eric Mugnier leads M&C Saatchi Mobile, a global mobile marketing agency, in the Americas.

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