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Pokémon Go: A Mobile Product Manager’s Perspective

Pokemon Go

Pokémon Go has exploded onto mobile phones since its launch on July 6. What’s driving this phenomenon and what implications does it carry for mobile apps and consumer electronics?

First, Some Stats

Pokémon Go is an augmented reality app for Android and iOS where you use your phone’s GPS and back-facing camera to catch virtual Pokémon in real world locations.

The Android version of Pokémon Go already has over 5 million downloads, according to App Annie, and is rated an impressive 4.1 stars out of 5 with over 1,200 ratings.

The iOS version has over 42,000 ratings and is averaging 3.5 stars out of 5 largely as a result of widely-reported server outages and other glitches. Notably, the app is still #1 on the Top Free and Top Grossing iTunes charts, which is really unusual for such a new title.

Hard revenue numbers for mobile apps can be difficult to come by, but ThinkGaming’s app revenue estimation software indicates Pokémon Go could be generating around $1.6 million per day… just on iOS… just in the United States.

Shares in Nintendo have been rising since the app’s debut. As I’m writing this, Reuters is reporting that investors are continuing to rally behind Nintendo’s first real venture into mobile, increasing the company’s market-value by $7.5 billion in just two business days.

I’ll Admit, I’m Not Impartial Here

I am one of those people posting pictures in my Facebook news feed of the various Pokemon I’m catching, like this one from my recent trip to IKEA:

IKEA Pokemon

Not pictured: My wife shaking her head in annoyance at me.

Anatomy Of a Hit Mobile Game

While there’s no blueprint for creating a hit mobile game, there are several commonalities that many of the most popular games share…

  • Have a defined audience and know how to connect with them
  • Do one thing, and do it extremely well
  • Are easy to understand
  • Are technically stable
  • Keep things feeling fresh with regular content and experience updates
  • Build in virality so users can share their enjoyment with friends and social media networks
  • Creatively find ways to let users who find value in the app to pay more for even more value

The Pokémon Go scorecard does fairly well on most of these fronts:

Pokémon Go
Defined Audience Nostalgic adults reliving a beloved experience from their youth; actual youngsters currently growing up with Pokémon.
Do That One Special Thing Seamlessly merging everyday reality with fantasy characters using a device you already own.
Easy To Understand Use your finger to flick your Poké Ball at the Pokémon to catch it.
Technically Stable Nope. International rollout was paused because the developer’s servers couldn’t handle the volume of users.
Regular Updates Too soon to tell. The real-world exploration factor is currently satisfying this requirement.
Built-In Virality See my IKEA picture above.
Creative Monetization The game provides minimal free resources at the start in a heavy-handed effort to force them to spend money ASAP… and it’s working.

Implications Abound

Only time will tell if Pokémon Go has legs beyond its initial explosive debut. But I’d wager my entire Weedle collection that in the near future we’re going to see many more games trying to replicate the success of Pokémon Go by mining other nostalgic properties from the nineties, then mashing them with location-based features, collectible items, and an aggressive monetization model to see if lightning can strike twice.

Perhaps more importantly, Pokémon has achieved something that no one (outside of maybe Snapchat) has been able to do: Bring augmented reality to the masses.

While the consumer-friendly hardware required to pull off truly immersive augmented reality experiences is still a few years away, Pokémon Go is an important milestone towards that future.

As consumer interest intensifies around augmented reality, fueled by this very concrete and approachable expression of AR, I expect we’ll see many more interesting applications very soon.

While we wait for that to happen, I’m going to try catching that rare Dragonite nearby.

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