Well, it wasn’t going to last forever. The meteoric rise of Pokémon Go this summer has finally ended, with new stats from Axiom Capital Management showing that daily active user and engagement rates have been dipping since mid-July.
Bloomberg has a report on the decline of the game, with an Axiom analyst suggesting that worried execs of major apps like Snapchat and Facebook can rest easy about Pokémon Go being a long-term threat to their engagement rates, while suggesting that augmented reality gaming may not be viable compared to virtual reality.
It’s kind of a strange way to think about Pokémon Go, and feels like something someone might say when they look at numbers out of context. I would hope no social media execs were actually worried about Pokémon Go over the long term — it was only ever a game, not an entire business. With apps like Facebook and Snapchat, prolonged growth can be expected — they enable or add to a daily human activity (communication), and unless people finally get tired of interacting with each other altogether (it could happen), those apps can continue to build their user bases.
Pokémon Go is just a game, and as a game, there are going to be diminishing returns for the players. Some will stop playing because they’ve caught everything there is to catch in their area (and might hop back on when a Snorlax appears), some will get hooked by another game, and others will find gym battles unappealing because of a handful of dominant power users who are increasingly difficult to unseat. It all depends on why individual people were playing the game in the first place — for some, it was nostalgia, and that’s not a draw that lasts very long.
I also wonder if this really says anything about augmented reality. The chart referred to in the report looks at Google trends for augmented reality versus virtual reality, showing that augmented reality has fallen off before ever reaching the popularity of virtual reality, despite a large Pokémon Go spike. But, this seems like a flawed way to compare the two. It’s based on keyword searches, where virtual reality has a natural advantage — because of past attempts and its presence in science fiction, the term itself is more embedded in the public consciousness than augmented reality, a relatively new term that remains arcane or unknown to many.
But, that doesn’t mean virtual reality has an advantage. While the term virtual reality is tied into its experience tightly, augmented reality experiences aren’t always explicitly referred to as augmented reality. It’d be hard to use the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive and be unaware of participating in “virtual reality,” but it strikes me as pretty easy for any given person on the street to play Pokémon Go and not be aware that they’re using “augmented reality.” I think Pokémon Go remains a pretty clear proof of concept that augmented reality is the more lucrative technology, especially because it’s better suited to mobile — you can walk around a park or ride the subway playing Pokémon Go, but not so much with a Gear VR strapped to your head.
As for Pokémon Go, I’d suspect we haven’t heard nearly the last of it. It’s almost certainly going to get a massive spike in daily active user rates when Niantic announces their plans for the legendary birds (Articuno, Moltres, and Zapdos). And, while subsequent generations of Pokémon won’t have the same kind of nostalgic draw as the original 151, there’s still a grand total of 721 Pokémon in the series, plus the new ones to be introduced in this fall’s Pokémon Sun and Moon. That’s a lot of content Pokémon Go can add to stay fresh, to say nothing of new game modes like trading or battles. It probably won’t get the game back up to its history-making heights, but it’ll be more than enough to sustain Pokémon Go for some time to come.