For Halloween, a Trick from Niantic: Pokémon Go Rose from the Dead

Pokémon Go came. And then it went. When the mobile sensation launched in July, it swept the world, and for weeks it was all anyone seemed to be doing or talking about. Then it quietly petered off. A large chunk of players faded away. Some declared it “dead.”

A eulogy for Pokémon Go, however, was obvious hyperbole to anyone who understood the numbers involved. To declare Go dead was premature—it merely was affected by the same loss of early players that every major mobile game faces. Not everyone who starts a game will keep playing it long-term. It just doesn’t happen.

Over 500 million have downloaded the game as of September, according to Niantic CEO John Hanke. It made Candy Crush in 2014 look small and Angry Birds in 2012 look downright puny. It spent nearly three months at the top of Apple’s App Store. At its peak, Go was garnering nearly two million tweet mentions per day.

Those figures have all dropped, sure, and millions of players continue to quit. But also: millions of new players join, and millions of old players remain active.

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Pokémon Go is still a massive, global game. And thanks to Halloween it became even bigger.

Niantic was wise enough to push a Halloween-themed event for players of the game. The weeklong event increased spooky spawns (think Ghost Pokémon) and boosted candy rewards (a valuable in-game currency for powering up monsters). The event brought back tons of players. It also raked in some serious dough for the makers.

Pokémon Go's loading screen during the Halloween event.
Pokémon Go’s loading screen during the Halloween event.

According to estimates from Sensor Tower’s Store Intelligence platform, the game’s event increased IAP revenue approximately 133% worldwide in its first five days. The game earned approximately $23 million between October 25 and 29, up from $10 million between October 18 and 22.

“What’s important to point out is that Niantic didn’t need to add any new content, such as additional Pokémon, to the game in order to encourage increased player spending on items such as lure modules that make finding the creatures easier,” write Randy Nelson, head of mobile insights for Sensor Tower. “Not only that, but the game’s online community reacted extremely positively to the tweaks introduced during the event, with many calling for more holiday themed events like this in the future.”

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Indeed, Reddit’s primary Pokémon Go subreddit went from a collection of complaints to a series of celebrations overnight. The players, frustrated and fed up, were suddenly aglow with delight. And Niantic’s pockets were ever greener.

There remain fundamental flaws with Pokémon Go—many which have contributed to a steeper-than-necessary decline of active players. Where is the trading feature they promised? And the friendly duels? And why have they not given us back the tracker, a popular (and crucial) feature that shipped with the game back in July before being abruptly taken away?

Niantic has not addressed these concerns. The company is notorious for effectively ignoring its own player base. And yet look at the success of the July launch. And of the success of the Halloween popup event. And the potential, still—though let’s not hold our breath—for Niantic to finally implement some of the features the game should have been released with.

Pokémon as a franchise has existed for 20 years. It has spawned dozens of videogames, card games, and costumes. It’s deeply embedded into popular culture. It’s a permanent fixture. Go’s start was remarkable and its descent was predictable and par for the course. Now we wait to see how good Niantic is at leveraging Pokémon’s rich legacy to build something no mobile maker has yet achieved: long-term success.

So, is Pokémon Go dead? Not even close.

Is it a fad? Ask us again in a year.

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