It's hard to articulate how huge Pokémon GO is right now. Recent data from SurveyMonkey Intelligence confirms Pokémon GO currently has more daily active users (DAU) than mobile mega-hits like Clash Royale and Candy Crush Saga. That's big news. Like, "sixty-five Wailords stapled end-to-end" big.
That means it's high time for critics and analysts to estimate when the bubble will burst. Wedbush Securities analysist Michael Pachter already obliged: He predicts Pokémon GO enthusiasts will lose interest in a few months.
"The game requires couch potatoes to get off the couch, and the novelty will wear off when they get tired or when their phone batteries die," Pachter says. "I give this four months at the top of the charts, then it will fade."
Putting aside the somewhat insulting suggestion that gamers are disinterested in exercise, and also putting aside the strange remark about phone batteries dying (all phone batteries are rechargeable), Pachter's thoughts are worth pawing through. Has Pokémon GO irrevocably changed gaming, or will we look back at the fury with an embarrassed laugh come winter?
I'm no Alakazam-level seer, but I know a bit about Pokémon and mobile trends. And while I believe the Pokémon GO hype will level out a bit in the coming weeks, the world's love affair with Pokémon GO won't turn to cold embers any time soon.
Niantic's Ingress is already a hit
Pokémon GO isn't based on a revolutionary concept. Augmented reality (AR) games have been around for quite some time. In fact, one of the most popular AR games on mobile is the critically-acclaimed Ingress, a title by Niantic – the same studio behind Pokémon GO.
Ingress is based on the concept of team-based dominance across entire cities, much like Pokémon GO. It's hard to draw a bead on how many DAU Ingress has without official data, though players have taken educated guesses. In any case, Ingress' DAU numbers have never come anywhere close to Pokémon GO's, but there's still a dedicated community backing the game. Ingress has been available to the public for over two years, and if sufficient numbers weren't there, Niantic would have shut down the servers ages ago.
Pokémon GO isn't Niantic's first time at the AR rodeo, so the company already knows something about keeping Pokémon GO fun and relevant. In that vein:
There are plans for big content updates
If you're a higher-up at Nintendo, The Pokémon Company, or Niantic, you'd have to drink a lot of paint to convince yourself that Pokémon GO should be left fallow for any measurable amount of time. Unsurprisingly, Niantic has no plans to sit on its hands.
"We treat [Pokémon GO] as an ever-evolving game. It’s not something that just sort of minted and then issued on launch day and not changed," John Hanke, the founder of Niantic, told GameInformer in an interview published on July 11. "So, in the area of things that we are interested in continuing to, well, there’s a wide variety of things that we want to do in the game, things on our roadmap, but in the near term, trading is something that’s not in the game right now that we’re committed to adding to the game. So that will be I think fairly soon in the future."
Hanke cites other plans, including smarter PokéStops and modified gyms. Niantic also plans for general server fixes and updates to come on a bi-weekly level. Moreover, there's always the tantalizing prospect of more Pokémon to catch, since Pokémon GO currently only contains Gen One critters. If Pokémon GO can give us a steady stream of content and solid servers to play on, the game should remain parked on players' phones for months, or even years.
But why will people remain engaged with Pokémon GO for an extended length of time? Consider:
Pokémon's been a cultural phenomenon for decades
An interesting thing I noticed a few days ago is that you can study a random selection of pictures stretching from 1998 up through last week and find one common theme between them all: You're probably going to see some kid wearing Pokémon merchandise.
Pokémon is a rare but lovely example of a game franchise that pioneers enjoy passing down to their kids. Of course, children don't really need help to get excited about Pikachu and his compatriots. All those wolves, dragons, and birds sell themselves. But right now, Pokémon GO is a classic instance of childlike enthusiasm meeting hardcore nostalgia and producing a big mushroom cloud with Charmander's face on it.
There's definitely a percentage of Pokémon GO players who are wallowing in their childhood memories, and will probably put down the game once the initial thrill wears off. But as of March 2016, Pokémon X and Pokémon Y for the Nintendo 3DS sold a combined 14 million units worldwide. Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire sold nearly 12 million units.
Pokémon isn't just a franchise; it's a legend. If people are still excited about the base games, they're not going to have a hard time staying excited about doing some real-world Pokémon hunting. Which brings up another important point:
Pokémon GO brings Pokémon's basic (but highly compelling) concept to life
The Pokémon games and anime are about young kids going on adventures and commanding colorful monsters. Everything else, including school, homework, chores, and bedtime gets put in the rear-view mirror.
The very idea of ditching your responsibilities to travel across the land with monster-friends is kind of amazing. It doesn't matter if you're 10 or 100; that's one tempting prospect. And it's helped endear people of all ages to the series.
Pokémon GO isn't the one-to-one Pokémon VR world we all hope will exist someday (however secretly), but it's a big and exciting step in that direction. We're getting up, we're getting out there, and we're chasing Pokémon (well, most of us are).
Better still, we know this is just the beginning. Pokémon GO is currently a somewhat clumsy glorified PokeDex, but Niantic has generations worth of content at its disposal. Four months from now, Pokémon GO will still be news, and it will probably look quite different. Maybe it won't be the absolute feeding frenzy it is right now, but I don't doubt there will be people running through the frosty November streets in search of Glaceon.