In our last blog post, we focused on a variety of metrics related to Pokémon GO, including monetization, stickiness and the game’s longevity.

But two weeks is an eternity in gaming – especially the fast-paced world of mobile gaming, where games are born, released, and die in the space of days (anyone remember Flappy Bird?). How have things changed in the Pokémon world since 25 July?

Well, firstly, there was a massive update to the game, one that fundamentally changed the nature of one of Pokémon GO’s core features. The way in which users track Pokémon nearby was originally related to the number of ‘steps’ displayed beneath the Pokémon: one step indicated the Pokémon was very close, two steps means further away, and three steps implies that the Pokémon is even further away. Players could use this feature to track Pokémon they wanted. Unfortunately, a bug emerged in late July which caused all Pokémon to appear three steps away, removing the element of ‘tracking’ Pokémon that many users enjoyed.

After this controversy, and amid increasing frustration from Trainers, the three-step tracking feature was completely removed during early August. Niantic’s blog post detailing the update on 3rd August described removing the display to “improve upon the underlying design”.

The other major change since late July involved Niantic’s decision to block third-party services such as the infamous PokéVision, which displayed exactly where each Pokémon was and the time remaining before they despawned (disappeared completely). Many considered such services cheating, and while Niantic made no comment on this, they did indicate that the third-party services were causing additional server issues and needed to be disabled in order to restore quality of service for their users.

The impact of these changes should be clearly visible in our latest survey. We decided to find out exactly how the Pokémon GO playerbase has changed since late July, and what Niantic’s changes have done to the game’s popularity.

Methodology

Qriously surveyed 1,178 respondents aged 13+ over the weekend of 5-7 August, including 805 mobile gamers, in New Zealand. Data is weighted to be nationally representative of New Zealanders aged 13+ on gender, age and region.

Pokémon GO Hits Peak Awareness & Trial Rate

Very little has changed since late July in terms of overall awareness of the game – 58% of mobile gamers have heard of Pokémon GO, compared to 55% two weeks ago (change is not statistically significant). Similarly, 24% of mobile gamers have tried the game, exactly the same as the figure in July.

We seem to have hit peak Pokémon GO – awareness has peaked, and anyone who wanted to try the game (in New Zealand, anyway) has already done so. This is not surprising, given the extreme news coverage of the game in the first few weeks of release – anyone who didn’t try it during July’s hype is unlikely to pick it up now, especially given the negative coverage the game has received recently.

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Retention Rate Still Superb: Pokémon GO Playership Hasn’t Dropped

In late July, we reported that 76% of those who had tried Pokémon GO were still playing the game – very high, but not too surprising, given the game’s heavy press coverage and the short time since release (less than three weeks).

But the surprising thing here is that retention rate has dropped only minimally since then. It’s safe to say Pokémon GO is here to stay – even a full month following its release, 68% of those who’ve tried it are still playing.

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Pokémon GO Engagement Hasn’t Dropped Either

The logical thought after hearing that players (largely) haven’t stopped playing is to wonder whether they simply play less often. Sure, maybe they log in once every few days now, so the player count is the same, but they must be less engaged. No-one could keep up with the furious energy and intensity of those first few hype-filled weeks. Right?

Actually, this hasn’t dropped off either. In July, 26% of those who played said they did so five times a day or more; this has actually increased – to 39%. It looks like, if anything, Pokémon GO is becoming even more engaging over time.

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Pokémon GO Players See A Future In Their Game

In late July, we asked players whether they could see themselves still playing the game in three months’ time. 23% of players said they were ‘very likely’ to still be playing at that later date.

We revisited this question as well for the August survey. Now, 34% of players said they were ‘very likely’ to be playing in three months’ time. Yes – this metric has increased as well.

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A Quick Recap

So, just to be clear:

  • Player count has barely dropped at all since late July.
  • Engagement – measured in terms of frequency of play – has significantly increased since late July.
  • Excitement for the future – measured by asking whether players will still be playing in three months’ time – has also increased since late July.

This is nearly unprecedented in mobile gaming, a sector so habituated to flash-in-the-pan success stories that many claimed Pokémon GO would be forgotten in weeks. Niantic have managed to do the impossible – they have prevented haemorrhaging of their player base, while increasing engagement and enthusiasm about the game – all while trying to manage systemic server issues and alienating a very vocal minority of fans with changes to some of the game’s core features.

So, what else has changed since July?

Trainers Level and Catch More Pokémon

Not a surprise, this one. Since July, our average trainer level has increased significantly – back then, only an elite 10% of trainers were above level 15. Now, that number has soared to 35%.

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Since levelling requires catching Pokémon, it will surprise no-one to learn that trainers have caught significantly more Pokémon over the last two weeks:

05_number of pokemon caught

Gyms Are Hotly Contested

The endgame of Pokémon GO has always been the gym, where players can battle their high-level Pokémon against other Trainers’ Pokémon to claim the location for their team. The spotlight is falling more and more on gyms; two weeks ago, just 29% of players had attempted a gym, but this has soared to 50% over the last two weeks.

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That means that half of current Pokémon GO players have at least tried to capture a gym. Again, this engagement with endgame features is very unusual in the mobile gaming world, and puts Pokémon GO in an odd position in-between traditional video games and mobile games; it seems to have the accessibility and widespread popularity of mobile gaming, but with the extremely high engagement and passion that is usually associated with characters like Commander Shepard or Master Chief from the console and PC world.

Spending Has Increased

As players level, one of the core mechanics of the game – catching Pokémon – gets harder. Pokémon are more likely to escape or to run. Trainers require Poké Balls to catch Pokémon, and as they throw more and more balls at their targets, they are more and more likely to run out. Simple mathematics dictates that Niantic will be raking in more money from players the higher-level they get, particularly in rural areas where there are few Pokéstops and reaching for your wallet really is the only way to keep playing.

We measured a significant rise in spending. 17% of players told us they’d made an in-app purchase in July, but this rose to a full 30% in the August survey.

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In addition, that spending is relatively recent. If we look at the spending graph just for the last 7 days in each case, we can clearly see that players are paying a lot more in August. In fact, the proportion of high-spenders nearly doubled (NZD $10 is equivalent to about USD $7).

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Younger Pokémon GO Players Begin To Dominate

Interestingly, our age distribution has shifted significantly since late July.

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Back in the hype-filled days of late July, older people were giving the game a go. (In fact, 25% of players were over 45 – a surprisingly high figure given all the media coverage about university students and high-schoolers).

But they’ve dropped off in the last two weeks. Over-45s now make up only 9% of current Pokémon GO players. Perhaps they are reluctant to get into the gym-focused endgame, either because they don’t have the time to train Pokémon that will be competitive against younger people with more time on their hands, or perhaps they picked up the game due to the press coverage around the time of our last survey, but lost interest in the intervening two weeks. There could have been a bandwagon effect; Pokémon GO is also a social experience, and once all your similar-aged friends stop playing, maybe you stop too.

The upshot of this research is that the Pokémon GO player base is looking quite different to our late-July survey. They’re younger, they’re more engaged, they’re more hardcore, they care more about the endgame and they want to be playing this game for a very long time. And they’re willing to pull out their wallets to make that happen.

This will be welcome news for Niantic, who have suffered a well-publicized backlash against their product from a very vocal minority of their player base. Despite the drama, despite the threats of cancellations and people insisting they will walk away from the game, that largely hasn’t happened, and they deserve kudos for creating a game that so many people genuinely want to play despite server issues and bugs.

So how has Pokémon GO managed the impossible and managed to combine the accessibility of mobile gaming with the passion and engagement of traditional video games?

Those who know a bit about both gaming sectors won’t be surprised by this best-of-both-worlds scenario. Pokémon is a beloved IP, as the unprecedented success of Pokémon GO has shown, and passion and engagement require well-loved characters to become passionate and engaged about; mobile gaming just hasn’t delivered the goods, until now. Previously successful games like Candy Crush have more in common with 80s arcades and slot machines than video games like Halo, World of Warcraft or Mass Effect, which left mobile gamers with little to get passionate about.

Pokémon GO is the first game to change that, and, importantly, to offer a significantly different experience from the handheld video games. Current mobile offerings from traditional video game publishers, such as Lara Croft Go or Madden NFL Mobile, suffer from comparisons to their console brethren – why should I play Tomb Raider games on my phone when I can just play Tomb Raider on my computer? – and, fairly or not, gamers judged mobile products unworthy and inferior. Pokémon GO is different. It uses augmented reality, and a key component of the game – tracking and catching Pokémon, as well as travelling to and capturing gyms – actually requires movement, meaning your home consoles and computers are useless. It thus manages to appeal to both casual gamers and hardcore Pokémon fans looking for something to play in-between main series entries.

Pokémon GO is not a fad. It is here to stay – even if it drops out of the media and mainstream coverage, it’s easily the most promising mobile game launch in history. What remains to be seen is how Pokémon GO will impact Nintendo’s fortunes. The upcoming release of Pokémon Sun and Moon will test exactly how closely players link their happiness playing Pokémon GO with a desire to play the traditional video games. Until then, the Pokémon GO juggernaut rolls on.