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Wait just a goddamn minute before you bury Pokemon Go

Published Aug 23rd, 2016 1:24PM EDT
Pokemon Go Update News
Image: Niantic

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So, I was going to do one of those “Pokemon Go RIP” pieces everyone is cranking out this week. But I spent three minutes thinking about it and decided not to. The problem with this corpse is that it is astonishingly vibrant, and there are three reasons why diagnosing the true state of Pokemon Go at this point is basically impossible.

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1. The original game was so badly constructed and riddled with problems that it may get a massive boost from relatively simple fixes. This type of game is also ideal for events and character expansion packs — we have no idea how much these additions will improve the app’s stats.

As we all know, Niantic had massive issues implementing a simple proximity detection system, which adds a lot of depth to the game as players can get a sense of whether the creatures are getting nearer or further. Making just this element work changes the dynamics of the game meaningfully. Adding time-specific tournaments, special types of Pokemon and better social interaction would all help the game immensely.

Since Niantic has been wrestling with global launch issues, improving and expanding game play has taken the back seat. That will change soon enough.

2. The game’s peak performance levels were so implausibly high that it is easy to get too dramatic about the moderation of key metrics. Here is a great example from the Bloomberg piece that started this conversation: DAU/MAU performance has dropped from 100% to around 60%. This very important gauge measures what portion of monthly active users are also daily active users. To put it simply, 60% of people who play Pokemon Go at all, play it every single day. This, of course, is ridiculously high. It’s a level of engagement that even the most successful game vendors in the world would kill for.

So it’s really hard to see the drop to 60% DAU/MAU level as a harbinger of doom, even if you squint. 50% DAU/MAU level would be great for a social networking app. But Pokemon Go has very weak social dimension in its current form — 60% is fantastic for such an isolated app.

3. There is no doubt that Pokemon Go’s download performance has declined sharply. The app is now down to No. 16 on free iPhone app download chart in the US after dominating for weeks. But here is the thing about top-grossing apps across the world: They are never top downloads.

Many of the No. 1 grossing apps in America and globally have typically hovered around Nos. 40-80 on download charts. The massive money makers generate revenue by hooking 0.4% of total mobile player base — the people who actually pay tens of dollars each month for in-app purchases. Chasing the No. 1 download position gives you glory and fame, but not filthy lucre.

Pokemon Go’s ability to dominate both downloads and revenue was an aberration. Even as its download performance fades, the app’s sales performance continues to astonish — right now, it is the top-selling mobile app in 57 countries. And that’s BEFORE any special events or level expansions that typically drive sales of well-established titles.

All in all, the real moment of truth for Pokemon Go will come when we see the first major upgrades or events arrive. That will tell us how the evolution of the title impacts its engagement and monetization.

After launching mobile game company SpringToys tragically early in 2000, Tero Kuittinen spent eight years doing equity research at firms including Alliance Capital and Opstock. He is currently an analyst and VP of North American sales at mobile diagnostics and expense management Alekstra, and has contributed to, Forbes and Business 2.0 Magazine in addition to BGR.