- Location-based & augmented reality game Pokémon Go launched on July 6, 2016 in just three countries: USA, New Zealand, Australia on iPhone and Android.
- Five days later it topped both the top grossing and top free download app charts in all three countries.
- It uses a location-based game engine run by former Google subsidiary, Niantic, previously used for its game Ingress.
- Despite its inclusion in the beta, Japan was omitted from the initial launch.
The Pokémon brand has propelled Pokémon Go to a chart-leading position extremely quickly. But to succeed long term the Pokémon franchise must demonstrate it has successfully adapted to the mobile platform and to mobile audiences’ ongoing expectations. If the game does not tailor its experience successfully for mobile, then the Pokémon Go audience will decline and fail to become a real mobile hit. In effect, the strong Pokémon brand, means it is far too early to know if Pokémon Go is a star for the long term.
Twenty years after the original Pokémon game’s Japanese Gameboy release, and despite the relative decline of the handheld game console market, the Pokémon company generates enormous revenues from its brand. In 2015 alone it enjoyed $2.1 billion revenue. If it can build Pokémon Go into a successful ongoing mobile franchise there is tremendous potential to boost merchandise revenues significantly by appealing to the vast mobile audience a mobile game can reach with new Pokémon merchandise.
The timing is perfect. The millennial audience which grew up with the original Pokémon games on Gameboy, Gameboy Advance or Nintendo DS are now in their late 20’s which is the perfect demographic for a mobile game that requires users to spend a lot of time outside. Plus smartphones are now ubiquitous, affordable, powerful, and include a rich range of sensors and good location support.
Brand alone cannot explain Pokémon Go’s uptake, because it is neither the first mobile Pokémon game, nor is it the first location-focused mobile game. In late 2015, Pokémon Shuffle launched globally, but it was a spin-off puzzle game rather than a mainstream Pokémon title and received mixed reviews. Ingress and Shadow Cities, among others, both showed the potential for mobile location as a game mechanic. Instead, IHS believes it is the combination of brand, interesting location-based game design, and a mainstream Pokémon focus which underpins this initial success.
Early signs are good that the Pokémon Company understands the difference between smartphone-based mobile games and other mobile or gaming platforms. It has wisely partnered with an expert in mobile location apps through its choice of Niantic. Until late 2015, Niantic was a Google subsidiary, originally created inside Google by Niantic CEO John Hanke, who had previously founded Google Earth. Niantic’s other mobile apps include Foursquare-style app, Field Trip, and location-based game Ingress.
Together, Niantic and The Pokémon Company have adapted Pokémon Go’s business model and game play to be different from console titles such as the older Pokémon games.
Notably, unlike classic console titles, Pokémon Go:-
There are also significant differences between Pokémon Go and Niantic’s original location-based game, Ingress, which highlight different design philosophies as well as Pokémon Go’s greater emphasis on monetisation.
Unlike Niantic’s earlier location-based game, Ingress, Pokémon Go has:-
Pokémon Go has the potential to be the next major mobile game franchise. To succeed, Pokémon Go will need to evolve as much as the creatures within the game, and continue to adapt to the mobile audience. Both Niantic and The Pokémon Company must manage the day to day game operation and game roadmap with care, attention and intelligence.
But Pokémon Go is even more significant as a sign of the potential for other game brands to do well on mobile. Nintendo, Sony Playstation and Microsoft Xbox have a tremendous opportunity if they fully embrace mobile rather than keeping smartphones somewhat at arm’s length from their established console businesses, and instead offer their best franchises on smartphones.