Actually, ‘Pokémon Go’ Is More Popular Than Ever

Pokemon Go

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Six months ago at a family gathering, I was shocked to find out my decidedly non-gamer cousin was very much into Pokémon Go. As he was proudly scrolling through his Pokédex and showing off his shiny collection, I had the same thought that you’re probably having right now; “Does anyone still play that game?!”

Since its release in 2016, Pokémon Go has challenged loitering laws worldwide, and people are still playing the game in plain sight. Ever seen a few people with portable phone chargers standing slightly off the sidewalk in a semi-significant location? Yeah, they are playing PoGo.

Like many others, I deleted the app after the original craze in 2016 (my poor Samsung Galaxy s5 couldn’t handle the battery drain). Despite the widespread belief that the game was a gimmicky flash in the pan, Pokémon Go has gone from strength to strength.

According to market intelligence company Sensor Tower, Pokémon Go made an estimated 795 million dollars worldwide in 2018. December 2018 alone saw a 35 percent increase on the previous years’ earnings (I undoubtedly contributed to this, by the way, the only way to dress your avatar is in full Team Rocket apparel after all).

In a mobile gaming market that is increasingly fickle, this sort of sustained success is incredibly rare.

I decided to redownload the game to find out how much had changed. Raid bosses, trading, friend lists, new generations of Pokémon, new items and research tasks were just the start of my Pokémon re-education. After being added to a local Pokémon Go group online, I’ve been enjoying loitering in parts of my neighbourhood with strangers ever since.

What’s new?

Community Days were introduced in 2018 and are one of the biggest reasons for Pokémon Go’s ongoing success. Every month, Niantic announces which specific Pokémon it will feature to appear almost exclusively for a short period, and the scramble amongst the community begins. You’ll want to surround yourself with other players, as higher concentrations of players and Pokéstops will yield a greater chance of that elusive shiny.

These days are no joke, and much of the community has figured out the best locations to maximise this three-hour window. Seriously, I once saw a dude on a Segway with three devices for his three separate accounts inside a basket. He was circling the park so he could simultaneously hatch his eggs through the step counter and catch everything that was spawning AT THE SAME TIME. It was majestic.

The real strength of Pokémon has always lied in tapping into…completionism.

Niantic has done an excellent job balancing hardcore objectives and casual fun – a key component to the longevity of any game. Okay yes, the combat is still simple button mashing (one fast attack, one charged attack per pokémon), but there are some seriously decent features for the more dedicated players.

Searching for perfect IV’s (individual values rating their combat power), shiny pokémon hunting (extremely rare colour versions of certain pokémon) and monthly EX raids (raids by invite only) provide a good amount of hardcore and exclusive content for more serious players of the game.

The real strength of Pokémon has always lied in tapping into that aspect of gamers that drives us to compare achievements and endless competition: Completionism. I have 140 out of the original 151 pokémon, and it’s been bugging me ever since I started playing again that I haven’t finished it off. The “gotta-catch-em-all” mentality sticks with you when you’ve got the pocket monsters…in your pocket. It’s so easy to be pondering about the Pokémon you could be missing whenever you go somewhere new.

There’s also gated content and region-specific pokémon for that authentic carrot-on-a-stick mentality that keeps us all logging in every day, inching closer and closer to the candies we need to evolve that elusive Gyarados or Wailord (seriously, these take forever).

The strength of community

Undoubtedly the best part of rediscovering the game has been joining some of the numerous community groups that have been formed to tackle the month to month content releases. In my quiet suburb alone, there are 3 Facebook group chats, two Discord servers and a Whatsapp group. At any time, if I want to join a raid, I can hop on and shout out the specific raid I’d like to try and take down and ask if anyone else is interested in meeting me there.

I’ve formed some real friendships this way, whether convoying from raid to raid in someone’s car or hitting up some pork rolls and burgers with some friends while trading our recently caught shiny’s to try and re-roll the IV’s. I’ve been amazed at how positive this experience has been. As an ex-World of Warcraft raider, I’m used to the competitive aspect of online and grouped games putting a damper on newer or less experienced players.

Whenever I’ve gone out playing Pokémon Go, however, none of the stigma associated with online gaming has followed. People will wait for you to enter a raid if you ask them, or trade you to help your growing collection. It’s all ridiculously wholesome, and it’s a breath of fresh air frankly. Removing the veil of online anonymity proves that we gamers can be alright sometimes.

Niantic is not resting on its laurels either. Just in the last few months, they’ve introduced player vs player battles, trialled a new community day format with a competitive angle and put in a new AR pose feature (Not that anyone plays with the AR feature on, but it’s still pretty cute).

Its estimated that Pokémon Go could exceed more than three billion dollars of lifetime revenue by the end of 2019 on its current trajectory. It’s a rare case of the success of an app directly affecting the AAA title releases that it was based on (Pokémon Let’s Go uses the same catching system from the app for example). With a new Pokémon core title slated on the horizon for late 2019, it will be interesting to see how much the success of PoGo continues to impact on the series going forward. In the meantime, you can find me loitering on sidewalks and cursing my terrible RNG.

Daniel Lavorato is still searching for a shiny Squirtle. Please trade him. He tweets @daniellavorato