The smartphone game Pokemon GO marked on July 22 the first full year since it was launched. While there has been some decline in the usage that made it a social phenomenon, the number of people playing the game remains high level.
Of course, there have been problems about the the game putting users in danger because they played while driving or walking, but developers are addressing that and have found ways to make the game’s system useful as well. Its new capabilities include facilitating aid to disaster-hit areas and the attracting customers to shops.
Pokemon GO is a game for smartphones jointly developed by Pokemon, Inc. and Niantic, an American company that split off from Google. Pokemon, Inc. itself is a joint venture of Niantic, Nintendo, and other companies.
Pokemon is an abbreviation of Pocket Monsters, the name of a character-based game that Nintendo started selling eight years ago. Pokemon became familiar to a wide age range through an animated television series and other tie-ins. In Pokemon GO you trace a ball with your fingertips and throw it to capture characters who appear in your surroundings as seen by your smartphone camera.
According to the market analysis firm VALUES, the number of players was at 4.42 million in June. This was down from the 11 million players just after the initial launch, but enough to make Pokemon GO the number two game application. The game continues to be a money spinner. According to the American company App Annie, in the first three months after launch Pokemon GO was one of the top 10 apps for the Apple iPhone. At one point point it fell out of the top 60 but earlier in July it bounced back to the number eight position. Koichi Hamamura, president of GzBrain publishers of the game magazine Famitsu, attributes the renewed popularity of Pokemon GO to “adding new appeal to characters popular around the world by making use of AR (augmented reality) and GPS (Global Positioning System) technology.”
A huge increase in the number of characters, the regular introduction of new capabilities, and game-related events have also played a part in maintaining Pokemon GO’s popularity.
Changes After Reports of Traffic Accidents
After numerous reports of traffic accidents shortly after the launch of the game, the potential dangers of game became evident. The developers and managers of the game were pressed to make it more difficult to play while moving rapidly.
At the same time, the game was modified to make the appearance of certain rare characters more common in that part of northeast Japan that was a disaster area as a result of the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake and Tsunami.
This increased the number of visitors to the area and made the game in effect a form of aid to the area. According to Miyagi Prefecture, an event in November of 2016 in Ishimaki attracted 100,000 visitors and had an economic impact of 2 billion yen (about US$18 million). This expanded the potential of the game.
Tatsuo Nomura, a development leader of Pokemon GO at Niantic, the American company that produces and manages the game said, “We emphasize experiencing reality as it occurs outside the game including many people playing the game together.”
Here are excerpts of our talk with Nomura:
Pokemon GO as social phenomenon
“We did not expect that to happen. Our intent was to produce a simple game that young and old, men and women, could play. It is really great that it turned out that it gave rise to communication between the young and old, between parents and children.”
Plans for monetizing the game
“We will not follow the pattern of putting a heavy burden on just one segment of the players. Our approach is ‘thin and wide,’ charging a small amount to a wide spectrum of players. By setting focal points for the game at shops and by linking with corporate sponsors we have minimized the direct charges on users.”
“As a consequence of adding more and more features, the game has become slower and other problems have appeared. I would like to focus on increasing stability. I want to make it possible for players to trade Pokemon characters and respond to the voice of the players.”
Kanji Takahashi is a staff writer of the Sankei Shimbun Economic news department.