Where can Pokémon Go from here?
Pokémon Go keeps on going. It’s sporting a $10 million daily income, and although the user base has declined from its mid-July boom, it’s still clocking an average of 23 million plays per day. The next step is obvious: fixing the bugs to avoid discouraging casual players. Where can Niantic and Nintendo take the app from there?
More Pokémon, more stuff for Pokémon
In-app purchases ensure the long-term viability of mobile games, which are generally sustained by a core user base of ‘whales’ – players who’ll keep on playing and paying after the initial hype has died down. Sustaining interest beyond that point involves offering more rare Pokémon for the dedicated hunter, and another generation of Pokémon for the casual and hardcore player alike. Not every player will be trying to catch them all – there’s a point at which the luck factor and the time spent hunting rares exceeds the investment the average player is prepared to make. That point won’t be long in coming – a complete collection has already been reported. However, doubling the number of available commonplace Pokémon at the right moment means players won’t reach the point where they give up – there’ll be more for them to do without over-investing in the game.
Expanding the range of items available to purchase within the game is another possible hook for the long-term player, deepening the gameplay factor. Accessories like custom lures, which attach to the players rather than the Pokémon, might be a winner. So could a random element – a modest micro-purchase for a random Pokémon, adopting the addictive “what’s it going to be?” factor of enduring collectible games like Magic Online or Hearthstone. Cosmetic upgrades are a final option. Reskins and costume accessories for Pokémon weren’t part of the original game, but they’ve become part of gaming culture, appearing in competitive games like Heroes of the Storm and Team Fortress 2.
Make more of locations
Niantic has already confirmed that businesses will soon be able to sponsor locations, paying a small fee for every aspiring Pokémon trainer who steps through the door. A rough and ready equivalent already exists – cafés, pizzerias and even churches have bought lures to attract Pokémon and thus players onto their premises – but Niantic are keen to formalise the relationship along a ‘pay per Pokémon’ model.
The next step could be crossover between the businesses involved – a restaurant chain or a game store paying for association with a signature Pokémon which can only be found in their outlets, or a community event which only takes place in venues that happen to sell Pokémon merchandise. Nine in ten mobile users allow their devices to track their location, provided there’s a compelling incentive for them to do so, and mobile marketing campaigns prove that location-based promotions work.
Increased player interaction
There’s one significant oddity about Pokémon Go – it encourages people to take their smartphones out into the world, to a particular location, but it doesn’t care who goes with them. The community cares – Pokéwalk events like this one in Hong Kong draw hundreds of players – but the core game functionality is essentially a solitary endeavour.
Players on the same team can assign their Pokémon to a location, and need to co-operate to secure gyms, but true multiplayer gameplay is still absent. Once the gameplay is stabilised, there’s real potential for community building to be integrated into the game, rather than organised as a parallel activity via social media. Personalising the existing functionality – leaving a lure or a Pokémon for a specific person or group, rather than a whole team – could create an effect similar to Traces, which builds on existing social bonds but doesn’t force integration with other platforms.
Playing against your ‘real life’ friends has been demanded since the game launched – it’s a core part of the original Pokémon experience, and it’s a logical extension of the current races between individuals to capture a Pokémon in the wild. Likewise, peer to peer trading – again, drawing on the lessons Nintendo learned from the Pokémon collectable card game – is part of the Pokémon experience. Niantic has confirmed that trading will be added to Pokémon Go sooner rather than later, and direct competitive play won’t be far behind. The danger here is users cheating the system – this is already possible via custom bots which make it possible to beat the game. Once it becomes possible to trade Pokémon, other techniques will emerge to deal in rare and fully levelled creatures. Niantic will have a challenge on their hands in keeping the system accessible, fair and not open to this kind of exploitation.
Pokémon Go is a breakout hit – it’s been the first contact with AR for millions of people around the world. Niantic now has an opportunity to keep augmented reality in those players’ minds as the next chapter in AR’s story unfolds.
01/11/16 UPDATE: Following the release of this blog, the Calvium team have since published a paper discussing Pokemon Go & what it’s success means for those who seek to connect people with place via apps. You can download it for free below…
Calvium are a mobile app development agency based in Bristol, UK. We provide award-winning app development for those looking to engage people with place. By combining the digital and physical worlds, we work with our clients to tell stories and create enchanting experiences.
Image via Flickr, public domain license