What the Heck Happened to Pokémon Go?

The “augmented reality” hype died.

The first warning that not all was right came in mid-July when my wife told me that one of her co-workers who’d been going nuts during lunch playing Pokémon Go, instead of eating, had deleted the app from her smartphone.

It was just a poll with a sample size of n=1. So not highly reliable. It came while the craze was in full bloom on the streets, with people, their eyes fixed on their smartphones, walking at snail’s pace down the Embarcadero, or along Columbus, or just about anywhere else in San Francisco, or anywhere in the US and other countries where the game is available.

The brouhaha in the media about the game was deafening, with incessant coverage everywhere. When two guys fell off a cliff on July 13 in Encinitas, California, and got hurt, while playing the game, it made the national news.

About a week after its launch in early July, Pokémon Go dominated Apple’s App Store charts. At the time, there was speculation that the game’s “daily active users” would soon outnumber those of beleaguered Twitter.

This drove the fear of God into social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, or Snapchat: their users were spending too much time in Pokémon Go’s “augmented reality.” The social media apps were getting elbowed out of the mobile “mindshare,” as it is called when your mind gets carved up into slices and taken over and monetized by various companies in Silicon Valley and elsewhere.

But among the remaining 7.5 billion or so people on earth who were not into chasing mini-monsters on their smartphones, the craze caused general amusement and a good amount of head-shaking, as they were wondering just how silly mankind was getting.

Pokémon Go is a free app. But it’s ultimately not free to play: in order to make progress in the game, users have to buy virtual goods within the app, while paying with hard currency. And investors were licking their chops.

The ballooning traffic caused servers to crash, which was seen as a great sign: too much success for the hardware. Just add more servers, and the future is great.

Then there was the flap about players who’d signed up by using their Google account on Apple devices: unbeknownst to them, they’d given the app “full access” to all their Google accounts, including their emails and their stuff “securely” stored in the Google “cloud.”

But no problem. Practically no one among the players cared about that. And so analysts elevated the game to a whole new level. For example, Deutsche Bank’s Han Joon Kim:

“Pokémon Go has gone beyond success to become a phenomenon, topping the revenue grossing charts in the three regions into which it has been launched: the U.S., Australia and New Zealand.”

There were more warning signs about this “phenomenon”: The crowds crawling along the Embarcadero and Columbus, eyes fixed on their smartphones, have thinned out. And suddenly, Pokémon Go has been wrapped in total media silence. It just disappeared.

And now we have hard data, of sorts, that the craze is dead: Bloomberg, citing data from Sensor Tower, SurveyMonkey, and Apptopia, pointed out that “daily active users, downloads, engagement, and time spent on the app per day are all well off their peaks and on a downward trend.”

That was a euphemism. The worldwide daily active users peaked at 45 million in mid-July, just as the media hoopla also peaked, and then headed south. It has now plunged 38% to 28 million.

So the frazzled executives and investors of Snapchat, Whatsapp, Twitter et al. can breathe a collective sigh of relief.

“The declining trends should assuage investor concerns about the impact of Pokémon Go on time spent on the above named companies,” writes Victor Anthony, senior analyst at Axiom Capital Management. And this ultra-short-lived craze of Pokémon Go could be a bad sign for the rest of augmented reality gaming – ballyhooed to the sky just weeks ago.

Investors playing this game have been on a ride! Shares of Nintendo, which is an investor in Niantic Inc., which developed the game, fell 1.3% in Tokyo on Tuesday, to 22,595. On July 10, in response to this craze, Nintendo shares had skyrocketed 25%, hitting the daily limit. It was the biggest gain in the shares’ history, which started trading in 1983, before many Pokémon Go players were born. In two days, shares had soared 34%!

Now the hot air has been let out. Shares are now down 31% from their Pokémon Go peak, but still up 35% so far in 2016, but still down 4% from a year ago….  In this daily chart of Nintendo since February, note the surge in trading volume (bottom part of chart), and how it deflated:


For investors, the craze amounted to this: shares soared 131% from July 6 (14,000) to July 19 (32,400 intraday), to their absolute Pokémon Go peak before the game unraveled for them. Shares have now surrendered more than half of those gains. Pokémon Go has turned a craze in which a lot of investors – not to speak of the players – have surrendered a lot of money.

In turn, folks on the street might re-surrender larger slices of their minds – the mobile “mindshare” – to be monetized by well-deserved companies in Silicon Valley and San Francisco.

“Everything feels distorted and unnatural,” the head of credit strategy at Citigroup lamented. Read…  “Mother of all Shorts” when Stocks Cave to Reality?

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  38 comments for “What the Heck Happened to Pokémon Go?

  1. Curious Cat says:

    This is actually pretty interesting. I wonder if it foretells a future phenomena of wide spread but short lived entertainment apps or products. After all our country’s collective attention spans is getting shorter and…..

    • Robt says:

      Future? You mean like candy crush, or pet rocks, or beanie babies, or cabbage patch dolls, or pong, or pogs, or anything else in the last many generations?
      I hate fads.

      • EVENT HORIZON says:

        Hola Hoops, 1959

        Davy Crocket Hats, Fess Parker, 1950’s

        Beatle Boots, 1966


    • Thomas Malthus says:

      This is Idiocracies coming out party….

      Facebook and Twitter were rumblings…. but finally — we are collectively… here:


    • wuzzy says:

      Current national attention span is 70 characters (1/2 a tweet)

      • Green Rock says:

        Short attention spans arise in boring lives. Everyone is incredibly bored. Endless controls over everyone, the traffic, lines, bad food, and regulated movements create boredom.

    • night-train says:

      I reject your suggestion that our collective attention spans are shortening.
      What were we talking about again? Oh well. I’ll find something shiny to play with.

  2. nhz says:

    A recent article compared Pokemon Go players to nature photographers: they both try to find and collect strange creatures, although the Pokemon ones are virtual and generate more web traffic along the way. But there are some similarities which is interesting culturally, even more so with activities like bird watching or geotagging that have evolved into some kind of strange group activity that is far removed from how it was in the days before the web …

    Here in Netherlands you still have to watch out for Pokemon players who are walking or biking with their eyes glued to the smartphone and totally oblivious to what is going on in the real world around them (a good analogy to the current economy? Has Super Mario Draghi been buying shares of Nintendo lately to distract the public from the real e-con-omy, or does he leave that to his BOJ counterpart?

    • Flying Monkey says:

      They need to make a game where there is a super Mario Draghi. It takes place in a place, which prints money. The printing presses are up stares. Super Mario must collect paper, carry it over obstacles an hindernesses and then return with baskets of printed bills.

      The points accumulate with each basket of freshly printed money brought to the shipping dock. From there you grad more paper and make your way back up stairs to the printing press. )

    • Paulo says:

      Good opportunity to practice a fender bounce. I don’t imagine a driver would be liable for such idiocy as people mindlessly wandering around playing a stupid game. You would be doing the world a favour and protecting the gene pool as far as I’m concerned.

      Oh well, at least investors and developers in this crap are ‘losing’.

    • Chip Javert says:

      Didn’t realize you actually had to buy “virtual” things inside Pokémon Go to continue playing.

      When will we begin hearing interesting stories about huge phone bills?

      Assuming Bernie Madoff reads about this, he’ll be kicking himself for doing a Ponzi scheme instead of inventing Pokémon Go. Fleecing sheep as they stagger down the sidewalk, sloshing their Starbucks is about as sweet as it gets…

  3. Nicko says:

    It was a summertime fad for people on vacation….summer is ending, going back to school or work, fad over.

    • interesting says:

      “or work”

      and don’t so many wish that were the case.

    • Intosh says:

      I was thinking the same. Back to school and work.

      And Winter is coming! :) Will likely deal a significant blow to traffic as well.

      This is happening a bit sooner than I thought. Never underestimate how short the lemmings and the mainstream media echo chamber’s attention span is. Perhaps soon, I’ll have the last laugh right in the face of those of my entourage who argued that this was the beginning of the “augmented reality” revolution. So gullible…

  4. WTFrogg says:

    Can I go back to playing Candy Crush Soda now ??? LOL

  5. OutLookingIn says:

    Simply a reality based comment, complements of a useless resource wasting fantasy, on the prevalent shallowness running wild in the state of today’s society.

  6. Petunia says:

    Pokémon Go is analogous to the markets. People chasing phantoms for no reason. Art imitating finance.

  7. roddy6667 says:

    Another Fad Of The Week for the crowd with the attention span of a ferret on crack.

  8. Ricardo says:

    But wait the game is set to launch in Thailand in September also the Philippines so there will obviously be other Asian countries yet to launch this silly game. The end is not in sight yet or rather the end is in sight.

  9. Vespa P200E says:

    Might be a good thing as I’m surprised only 1 person died (in SF by gunshot and not mowed down by car).

    There were way too many people mostly teenagers roaming around the park and in my hood. Guess it’s a good thing to get people out of home and walk around but staring at screens while walking…

  10. polecat says:

    Well…if Pokemon has died…might it have taken a few players with it??

    I seem to remember some young fellow who was murdered at an S.F. waterfront park, what…week before last?? ……Pokemon gone wrong?

    I have read reports of various players having injured themselves, due to not paying attention to ANYTHING but the little screen in front of their nose…….

    It seems’Idiocracy’ has evolved sooner than expected !!!

    • Wolf Richter says:

      This happened just a couple of blocks down the street from us. It’s a popular spot near the water. Lots of people go there. My understanding is that the police has not said that there was a connection to Pokemon Go, other than that the guy happened to be playing when he was shot. My understanding is that this could have happened to anyone who happened to be there. No suspect yet.

      • polecat says:

        I guess my point, Wolf, would be that were it not for the continuation of distractions associated with internet based electronic apps & googahs, the public might have better situational awareness of what’s happening around them…….. whether it be criminals intent on mayhem, or the cliff in front of your screen!

        • TeeJay says:

          Bravo, Polecat… and were it not for said distractions, the public (especially youngsters) could probably speak intelligently and in complete sentences, as we did years (decades?) ago.

        • Thomas Malthus says:

          Is it morally acceptable to shoot someone who is obstructing a walking path playing pokemon – or otherwise has head down and face buried in a smartphone…

          I am leaning towards yes.

  11. CrazyCooter says:

    I know I will get flamed for this, but as far as the media goes – replace Pokemon Go with Hillary Clinton.

    Much of the post could still stand!



    • arcadia says:

      It’s also interesting to think about the timing of the release–and surge of interest–in the game: during the summer, when the target audience (generation who had grown up on the card game) were on hiatus from university. Yes, they all have summer jobs to help pay for college costs, but they also do have more time to devote to such games. Hence the absurdity of the share spike (which did not take such time / availability of young players into account). And yeah, I know that millennials are a target market for entertainment apps, but the ones that are successful are those (unlike Pokemon Go) that enable millennials to multitask (another form of “augmented reality”): listen to music, chat, watch video, etc., all while (supposedly) studying.

  12. ML says:

    As someone who doesn’t understand what it is all about let alone how to pronounce Pokemon Go, (i have read about it but the explanation goes over my head, probably because playing games of this nature doesn’t interest me) surely this craze is no different to a song that reaches no,1 in the charts only to slip down again when something else comes along.

    The only difference as I can see is that it is possible to buy shares in the company that makes the app, which makes it a thrilling ride for those that got in when the share price was lower.

  13. Lotz says:

    Not sure I trust the reports of Sensor Tower, SurveyMonkey, and Apptopia.

    Seriously surveymonkey is an authority now ? Think that through for a moment.

    You’re going to see dropoff in users of course. It’s not going away and if features get added (1 to 1 combat) it’s another reason for them to flood in.

    Millions of users is nothing to laugh about.

    • polecat says:

      Millions of dopes you mean!

      • polecat says:

        It’s no wonder society is in the mess it’s in…when this is the kind of stuff people fixate on, rather then the greedy power players grifting us to death!

        • JerryBear says:

          I read through the entire 11 volume series of Will and Ariel Durant’s The Story of Civilization in about 4 years while I whiled away the nights I was suffering from insomnia but not many young people are going to have our perspective on history….

      • JerryBear says:

        Polecat, there is no final victory of the elderly over the young. ^,..,^

    • Guido says:

      I am sure you remember those polls you hear of where Trump is going to lose by 300% margin.

      One of the heavily weighted ones (by NYT and HuffPo) is by NBC/SurveyMonkey.

      The days of turning tricks for SurveyMoney are now behind it. It is in the august company of NYT and NBC. Oh wait, may be they are all turning tricks now.

      Too much to comprehend. Back to Pokemon go, I go.

  14. HudsonJr says:

    Part of the reason Nintendo’s stock tanked was because people were pouring money into it as if Pokemon Go was 100% Nintendo owned.

    In reality they own 1/3rd of one of the two companies that collaborated on the game. Throw in Apple and Google taking 30% of in-app purchase, and their piece of the pie gets pretty small.

  15. Pokemon Go was an amazing launch for a mediocre product which the programmers ruined 2 weeks in.

    Niantic had a predecessor game called Ingress. It was very similar where you use location based dynamics to get “stuff” you use to “battle” and claim territory. The stronger you get the easier it is to battle.

    This made for a game very much about “leveling up” and once you had leveled up there wasn’t much left to the game.

    Pokemon Go was basically the same game. The higher level you get the stronger the Pokemon you get. In concept this could be fun because you could compete against other players, except… Niantic never built a dynamic allowing players to compete against each other. Or trade. Or any of the stuff that would make for a long term fun game.

    One thing Pokemon Go had for it was the “Gotta Catch Them All” dynamic which some people cared for. Unfortunately that game dynamic interfered with the companies motivation of “Gotta empty their wallets.”

    In order to ease server cost while also increasing the likelihood that players would spend money, 2 weeks into the game Niantic released an “update” which broke the game. People liked a “getting warmer/getting cooler” game dymanic which allowed them to “hunt” Pokemon they didn’t have yet. Ingress took away all ability to go find the Pokemon you might want… absolutely all of it.

    And to add insult to injury they changed your “catch rate.” Before you would spend 1-2 resources and catch something basic and 3-5 resources to catch something powerful. After the update you have to spend 3-5 resources to have a 90% chance of collecting something basic, and spend 5-10 resources to have a 50% chance of catching something powerful.

    This increased the cost of the game while removing the largest source of fun for most people. Many of the players I know are literally “waiting for them to fix the game from the patch which broke it”

    Was it a huge media burst and launch? yeah. Was it a ton of fun for a bit? Definitely. I have fond memories of meeting people exploring the game for the first 2 weeks. The video game itself was less fun than interacting with other humans around my city!

    By angering players it weakened their player base until the real life social interaction which made the game fun no longer existed. All we have left is a weak game that is basically not fun after you reach level 20 and have nobody to play with.

    Ironically this will probably have a silver lining. Niantic had promised years ago to release APIs so that other people could build games using the same dynamics. If Pokemon Go had been a long term success Niantic might have gone back on its promise, but by being an impressive failure there’s a better chance that they will release (and license) the APIs for other game developers to make an actually fun game with.

    Niantic built a nice back-end tool for gaming. Now game developers need to make something fun with it.

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