What Is Pokémon GO?
Pokémon GO. If you haven’t been living under a rock for the last few weeks, you’ve probably heard about it. It’s made international headlines and has gone viral in a matter of weeks: stampedes in Central Park over a Vaporeon; hundreds of people flooding Sydney streets in search of the rare Porygon; and, of course, the significant boost to Nintendo’s share price, doubling in just a handful of days after the mania began.
If you’re over 35, you could be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss is about. Pokémon, of course, didn’t begin with Pokémon GO – it began with a few Game Boy games made in the mid-90s – Pokémon Red, Blue and Yellow, followed shortly after by Pokémon Gold and Silver. Pokémon mania hit the West then, too. If you were a kid, or if you had kids under 12, you knew about Pokémon. There were several hit movies, a massive cartoon show starring Ash Ketchum, a trading card craze, and, of course, the video games. But then it faded from popular consciousness, although the games, the cartoon, the trading cards and the movies continued. Now – it’s back. With a vengeance.
Our Survey Methodology
Qriously decided to investigate a little more into Pokémon GO – how it stacks up against other popular mobile games, and what its player base might look like in a few months’ time, when the hype has died down a little.
We interviewed a representative sample of almost 1,000 mobile gamers (aged 13+) in New Zealand, from 22 – 24 July using our mobile programmatic sampling method. We chose New Zealand for a few reasons – firstly, it’s often used as a test market by game developers, as it’s an English-speaking country that tends to behave similarly to the much larger markets of the USA and Europe (if something is a hit in NZ, it will probably be a hit elsewhere too); secondly, gaming is popular (particularly PC gaming), meaning there’s a large player base to tap into; and finally, in the case of Pokémon GO specifically, it was released first in New Zealand, so the game has had the longest time to mature there.
Data was collected between 22-24 July (NZT). Data is weighted to be nationally representative in New Zealand on gender, age and region.
Pokemon GO is already as known as Candy Crush among mobile gamers
The first thing that we found is that Pokémon GO has hit mainstream awareness. Not a surprise, given the news coverage – but still extremely impressive for a game just a few weeks old. Among mobile gamers, 55% had heard of Pokémon GO (second only to Candy Crush Saga, King’s juggernaut from way back in 2012). Awareness of Pokémon GO has already surpassed other mobile rivals such as Clash of Clans, Angry Birds 2 and Game of War: Fire Age (famous for spending $40 million on marketing and promotion in 2014).
Word-of-mouth is driving awareness and downloads
Our data supports the strong word-of-mouth component for Pokémon – respondents were most likely to have heard about the game from a friend, and over two-thirds of players had recommended it to friends or family. Given Pokémon’s origins in the 90s as a schoolyard craze, it’s not surprising that young people would recommend it to others – and given nearly everyone has a smartphone, it’s accessible and very easy to try.
1 in 4 mobile gamers have already downloaded and played the game
So the brand is strong, and a lot of people have heard about it. But the key thing is that this awareness has also translated into interest. 24% of mobile gamers have tried the game – higher than Clash of Clans – and 18% of mobile gamers have played Pokémon GO over the last 7 days, compared to 15% for Candy Crush Saga and just 4% for Clash of Clans. (Game of War: Fire Age, with that impressive marketing budget, didn’t even reach 1%).
3 out of 4 who downloaded the game are still playing
Of course, it’s early days now – we would expect a high retention rate given the game only released a few weeks ago. It’s likely that, as the hype dies down and friends stop playing, this will drop too. But at the moment, three-quarters of mobile gamers who’ve tried the game are still playing it, which means that the Internet outrage over the many bugs and server problems still plaguing the game hasn’t translated into a significant drop in the user base.
The game is sticky: 50% of players play several times a day. ‘Stickiness’ is the technical term for how likely a mobile game is to stick around. It is measured by things like frequency (how often do people play it?), changes in frequency (are people playing it more or less than the week before?), and future likelihood of play (if we ask people to picture themselves in three months’ time, will they still be playing the game?).
At the moment, indications are positive for Pokémon GO. 26% of current players have played it five times a day or more; 24% told us they were playing ‘much more’ than the previous week; and 23% indicated they are ‘very likely’ to still be playing the game in three months’ time.
Of course, believing you will still be a Pokémon GO trainer in three months won’t necessarily translate to reality – and 40% of current players say they are unlikely to keep playing that long – but what these numbers do indicate is that Pokémon GO already has a dedicated, core fanbase – about 20% of its current players are ‘hardcore’, playing multiple times a day, playing more and more each week, and planning to play long-term. This is extremely high for a mobile game – typically, console and PC games field such a fanbase, but it’s almost unheard-of to create such a dedicated core of players on mobile (especially just three weeks into the game’s launch period).
Is Pokemon a social game?
The social component of a game like this is crucial. From the 90s onwards, a huge part of the fun of Pokémon came in the form of comparing your collection to your friends’ (and battling and trading – but we’ll get to that in a minute). The good news for Pokémon GO is that it has a very strong social component – on average, respondents know 8 other people who play the game.
In addition, engagement is high, with 39% of players traveling to at least three locations outside their normal routine in order to catch Pokémon (29% have attempted to capture a gym, which almost always requires traveling outside your typical route to work or school, unless you got lucky and have gyms conveniently nearby).
It seems obvious that Niantic are missing a key feature here, though. If the average player knows 8 other people who play, that’s an enormous opportunity for interaction. In traditional Pokémon games, the core of the gameplay revolved around battling and trading – both against computer-controlled trainers in the game, and against your friends. In fact, the competitive Pokémon scene is still huge, with The Pokémon Company sponsoring the World Championships every year in August. There is a raft of detailed mechanics that provide real meat for strategists to get their teeth into – from Pokémon natures, to breeding for optimal stats, to mysterious numbers called EVs and IVs which help to make your Pokémon as strong as possible. It’s a lot more complicated than remembering that Fire beats Grass in type match-ups. And all this complexity has helped to foster a dedicated, core fanbase who still live and breathe Pokémon – twenty years after the first games released in 1996.
Where is this level of complexity in Pokémon GO? Sure, it’s a smartphone game and ultimately limited by its hardware (compared to dedicated gaming devices), but even adding a real battling feature would be welcomed by players. (The tapping routine that currently passes for ‘battling’ doesn’t count!) This is a feature that has been requested by players since the game’s launch. Walking with your friends to catch Pokémon might be fun, but it won’t be fun forever, and battling and trading are easy ways to increase the game’s appeal beyond the collection element.
The $1b Monetization question.
Finally, we come to the last element: how the game actually makes money.
17% of Pokémon GO players told us that they had made an in-app purchase in the game; over the last week, 11% had made a purchase of some kind. On average, Pokémon GO players spent NZD $1.10 over the past 7 days, which equates to about USD $0.78. Although most mobile games are powered by ‘whales’ who tend to spend large compared to other players, Pokémon GO seems to follow the opposite pattern. Pokémon GO boasts a relatively high number of players spending (compared to other mobile games), but actual amounts of money spent being smaller, on average, than other mobile competitors.
Of course, Pokémon GO is in an unusual position. It has a much closer association with traditional video games; we can’t yet measure how much Pokémon GO might improve the sales of upcoming Pokémon games, such as Pokémon Sun and Moon, or even Nintendo’s new console the NX (yet to be formally announced). Indeed, we’re not sure how Pokémon GO is impacting on sales of older Pokémon games, or even other Nintendo IPs that might be positively impacted by Pokémon’s success (maybe those nostalgic 25-year-olds are also remembering how much they loved Mario Kart, for example).
So overall, it’s too early to say how successfully Pokémon GO is monetizing – and it depends on whether it will be treated as a standalone game, or whether it’s designed to whet players’ appetites for Nintendo’s traditional offerings. Nintendo always claimed the latter, but with Pokémon GO’s stunning success, they might be rethinking that plan.