Author(s): George Jijiashvili
Pokemon Go, the new mobile game from Niantic Labs and The Pokemon Company, has been a runaway success since its launch in the US earlier in July 2016 (see Pokemon Go Sizzles on Launch). The game was recently expanded to 26 European countries. Estimates for the number of active users for the US alone vary from 15 million to 25 million and I expect the global number to be considerably more.
Looking at the initial coverage of the game's success, it's clear that many commentators were taken aback by the overwhelming interest and hype generated by it. Many were baffled about how this game, which "came out of nowhere," managed to captivate so many people in such a short period of time.
I believe two main factors of Pokemon Go's unprecedented success were overlooked. Firstly, the Pokemon franchise has been built up over the last 20 years, beginning with the Game Boy console game back in 1996. Now it's one of the best-selling game series of all time, with 75 Pokemon video games (17 main series titles and about 58 spin-offs) and selling almost 300 million copies. Over the years, the franchise has been expanded to trading card games, anime series, films, books, toys and other products.
Secondly, Niantic, the software company behind the Pokemon Go app, was first formed as a Google internal start-up in 2010, which was subsequently spun out as a separate company in 2015. Niantic is known for its popular Ingress title, an "augmented-reality massively multiplayer online location-based game," originally released in 2012. Ingress serves as Pokemon Go's foundation, as it features similar game mechanics and mapping algorithms developed over the past four years.
When combined with other external elements, such as the very high level of capable smartphone ownership in developed markets, widespread 3G and 4G coverage and the prevalent use of social networks, it's clear that the setting was apt for Pokemon Go's remarkable achievement.
In a separate blog I'll address the effect Pokemon Go has had on its players. The most important aspect of the game requires players to physically move around in the real world — this has meant that its players (myself included) have become considerably more active. I've also experienced a positive effect of the game's social element, which encourages players to meet up with friends, socialise and capture Pokemon.