Celebrating Pokemon GO For Its First Anniversary

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By: Eric Ashley

Around the world, smartphone technology has only been around for a little more than a decade, with phones such as the iPhone and HTC releasing an Android phone to the masses in 2007 and 2008 respectively. As the popularity grew, portable gaming on the go began to explode. Nintendo popularized gaming on the go with the Game Boy line and Nintendo DS, but it was smartphones that really took it to the next level.

As with any new format that is taking off, mobile gaming had a ton of shovelware in the beginning. But a few standouts began to emerge: Words with Friends and Candy Crush Saga became sensations, consistently topping the charts. Bite-sized games on a device that you had on you almost all the time exploded – and became quite lucrative thanks to microtransactions (the option to buy add-ons in free downloads), with the makers of Candy Crush becoming richer than the people behind Grand Theft Auto, and a Kim Kardashian game banking over $80 million dollars. They were definitely popular games, but they couldn’t hold a candle to the phenom in the summer of 2016 known as Pokemon GO.

Pokemon has been a hugely popular franchise for over twenty years. Games on Nintendo handhelds would sell tens of millions of copies, and once out of print, a mint or sealed copy could sell for up to hundreds of dollars in the second hand market. Its insanely cute creatures and market saturation as a card trading game and video game franchise has made Pokemon one of the biggest brands in the world.

But Pokemon GO took it to a new level. The advertisement that aired during the Super Bowl sent fans into a frenzy. And that fever pitch of hype lasted for five months, as it wouldn’t debut until mid-June in the iPhone’s App Store and on Android’s Google Play. The game, developed by Niantic in collaboration with The Pokemon Company and Nintendo, became such a sensation that the word “phenomenon” just doesn’t do it justice.

Everyone was playing it. Or, it seemed like everyone was playing it. People wandering around like zombies, staring at their lighted up phone screens, pausing in mid-walk with no mind of the surroundings around them to catch the elusive Pikachu or Jigglypuff. Huge mobs of people out walking around at all hours of the night, sometimes creating stampedes that make for great YouTube watching today. It even became a health hazard as stories began to surface of people twisting ankles or walking into traffic by staring at their screens instead where they were walking, trespassing, and even people who used the game to lure players into situations to rob them. As a GPS location based game, it required people to get out and start walking to find Pokemon, hatch eggs, and battle for supremacy for their team at virtual Pokemon Gyms that were located around town.

Pokemon GO took everyone by surprise. It became popular with people who didn’t even play the game. I had an oral surgery appointment the Monday morning after it came out and even the dentist and her assistant asked me if I knew what it was. My Seattle roommates asked me what it was about that game. My response was that via the augmented reality format, it allowed longtime Pokemon gamers the best opportunity to play the game in real life.



Truth be told, Pokemon GO was everywhere. At its peak last summer, the game had up to 28 million daily users. That’s 28 million people playing Pokemon GO at some point every day. That is a mind-boggling statistic. For a few weeks, it even supplanted social media juggernaut Twitter in terms of daily usage and popularity. Companies got in the action, doing promotions and advertising that they were a Pokestop – a place in the game where a player can refill their supplies for free, and themed sales on portable phone battery chargers went through the roof.

There was something special about last summer. People were out, having fun, interacting with each other – just enjoying themselves with a level of joy that hasn’t been seen to that extent in years, if ever. You could talk to a stranger about what Pokemon they caught and where they caught it and instantly have a friendly bond. It was a magical time.

But any game that is earth-shatteringly popular like that is bound to wane. Perhaps due to the extreme usage, bugs such as server crashes became more common than not and grew into more than an irritation. Updates were initially slow as once people caught most of the Pokemon, there was no real reason to come back. Summer turned to fall and winter, and naturally, the number of people out walking decreased dramatically. The battery-hogging game was facing an erosion of users.

Now, a couple months shy of the one-year anniversary, Pokemon GO is still a popular game. Daily users have shrunk to around five million – which means it shed about 23 million. It seems almost hip to see an article about Pokemon GO as leaving a comment that snidely says “People still play this game?” But five million daily logins is still a number that almost every other app out there would kill for. Themed events began to pop up every so often, as well as a second generation of Pokemon that was added in the winter that put a brief spike of activity in the game.

There is hope for another resurgence of popularity with summer approaching again. By default, more people will be out and about, as opposed to winter – which can be a killer for a game that depends on players going out and walking. Rumors of long awaited additions such as a new generation being added as well as in-person one-on-one battling and trading (something that was shown in the initial Super Bowl ad but hasn’t been released as of this writing) would absolutely make the game fun again. Of course, I don’t think it will reach the insanity levels of last year, but I do firmly believe that Pokemon GO is far from dead.

But for one summer in our lifetimes, life was fun. A mobile game encouraged people to get active, meet others, make friends, and have fun. And 28 million people per day did so for a season. It really was a magical time that most players, even ones who don’t play anymore, look back upon very, very fondly. Pokemon GO was easily mocked by outsiders, but to millions – it represented so much more than just a mobile game. Regardless of what happens from now, Pokemon GO has etched a place in pop culture history by being nothing more than imaginative, fun, and – most importantly – unique.


    2 Comments

  1. LoriApril 25th, 2017 at 8:08 am

    I agree, the article is absolutely correct, …. come on….let’s go pokémonin !!!!!

  2. LoriApril 25th, 2017 at 8:12 am

    I just had to comment again, I love this game, I play every time I get a chance.
    I am so happy, thank you Niantic.

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