SINGAPORE: Two months after its initial global launch to massive hype and near hysteria, reports are suggesting there is now a declining interest in Pokemon Go, the augmented reality mobile game that allows players to capture virtual creatures.
Experts that Channel NewsAsia spoke to said that the nature of the game and the way that it has been released in stages around the world contributed to the massive initial burst of popularity, and that a tailing off is not surprising.
Marketing expert and founder of PRecious Communications, Lars Voedisch, said that developers may need to do more to sustain the game's appeal: "If you have 100-plus Pokemon, are you really happy (looking) for those few rare ones? What's next? How do developers keep interest high?"
The initial interest in the game has been phenomenal, with 100 million global downloads within three weeks of its launch in July. That has resulted in crowds gathering at parks, outside shopping centres, and even at remote locations. From complete strangers to multi-generational families, people are interacting with each other and even getting in better physical shape in a bid to “catch ‘em all”.
Its popularity has had a downside too: distracted drivers and pedestrians are reported to have caused traffic and other accidents, while in Singapore, where the game launched last month, players have left mounds of litter at parks and other recreational places.
The game has been released in about 80 countries so far, but reports suggest its popularity might have peaked. Recent surveys in the US have suggested that the game’s number of downloads and active users have been declining.
STAGGERED RELEASE: A MARKETING PLOY?
Experts say there were a number of reasons for Pokemon Go's sudden, meteoric rise.
The game caused a global frenzy when it was first released in the US. Experts say unique features and the game’s staggered release built a sense of excitement almost instantaneously around the world.
"When they rolled it out in a staggered form from country to country, of course the desire became bigger," said Mr Voedisch. "It's a common way of releasing new games - where one only allows access to a certain number of people and if you keep supply low and can steer demand, then normally you have the effect of 'I want to play it'."
The game also banked on an evolutionary trait - herd mentality. Associate Professor of Psychology at the Singapore Management University, Norman Li said people do not like to feel left out. “If everyone is doing something, it’s probably something fun, something desirable and if you don’t do it, then you’re going to be left out, you’ll miss out on something.”
An additional factor in the initial success was that it had a built-in fan base of people who followed Pokemon characters in video games about 20 years ago. The brand soon morphed into gaming cards, animated television series and movies.
Mr Voedisch said the game's early adapters brought with it a critical mass. But beyond that, its free download status and simple design allowed people of all ages to get involved.
“The game has a vague linkage to a storyline but at the end of the day, if you want to understand the story behind it, it is relatively complex. But it’s still simple to get started. If you are a fan, you get the bigger story behind it, but even if you’re not you can still get immediately started,” he said.
Mr Voedisch said the fact that it has become a multi-generational activity has been a big reason for the game’s phenomenal success.
AUGMENTED REALITY: A MAGIC CIRCLE THAT BLURS REALITY AND FANTASY
For centuries, games have been a way of distracting people, a momentary escape into a fantastical space in time. Academic and game developer at the National University of Singapore’s Department of New Media, Assistant Prof Anne-Marie Schleiner, talked about the appeal of augmented reality games.
She quoted Dutch historian Johan Huizinga, who said with games, one steps outside everyday life and into a “magic circle”. But she said with augmented reality, the borders are harder to define. “With Pokemon Go, the characters are mixed into your everyday lives. The borders of the ‘magic circle’ are hard to define because the setting for the game is not a fictional universe on your computer but the everyday world we live in,” Prof Schleiner said.
WANING POPULARITY OR MINOR DIP?
But while its incredible popularity is irrefutable, that has left it with further to fall as the initial hype wears off. Still, some say it's too early to tell if the declining interest is a global trend. Pokemon Go's developer Niantic has banned several accounts that have shown signs of "cheating" through third-party apps.
Mr Voedisch said it is also normal for numbers to dip as one or two-time users fall off the radar. He said the game's success may depend on how successful developers are in adding new features.
He said there are any ideas developers have yet to implement. "They have not made it a social media game yet - there are no social media plug-ins, you can't share locations easily over WhatsApp, so there are a lot more things that can be improved."
Even if interest in Pokemon Go eventually wanes, experts like Mr Voedisch and Professors Li and Schleiner agreed that the game has changed the landscape of gaming as we know it.
Prof Schleiner said before Pokemon Go, its developers came up with the Ingress game. "In Ingress, you’re assigned a faction and you go to portals and you try to game certain information from the portal ... it’s a science fiction universe that is integrated into everyday life of the city. And it was played in a number of cities around the world. They use the same infrastructure for Pokemon creatures that people find," she said.
She said the two have set the stage for developers to come up with novel games that ride on the popularity of augmented reality, yet again blurring the "magic circle" between fantasy and real life.