Unless you’re living under an Onix (umm, a rock), there’s not a chance you didn’t hear about the new mobile app called Pokemon Go. Yes, the app that all the millennials are talking about. The app that within mere days of launching has destroyed any app metric possible.
This post is dedicated to the ultimate, game changing, obsessive and thrilling game called Pokemon Go. It’s about how the game has brought the brand back from the dead and modernized it in one of the best uses of augmented realtity for the masses. Every entrepreneur, product manager and developer needs to study this game, showing that even the worstly-developed MVP’s can work, if the core product is amazing. Nobody really cares that it doesn’t work 90% of the time and is buggy as hell. People just want it more. Business case studies will be written about this launch. We’re living in amazing times. Let’s not forget it.
Backstory — Why 90’s kids connect so deeply?
For anyone (such as myself) that grew up in the 90’s, Pokemon was the backbone of our youth. We had these machines called Gameboys that played games which came in cartrige format. Pokemon was one of the best selling games with over 25 million sales, of which 2 or 3 were mine (yes, I needed multiple versions of the same game! Go Red version!) But once that phase was over, Pokemon was gone from my life. They managed the keep the franchise kicking another several years with trading cards and a T.V. show. But for the most part, it was gone. Sad indeed. Until last week.
How does this reflect within the new mobile app game? It touches something deep inside us. The fictional world of Pokemon is full of “trainers” which have turned their life goal to capture and train these animals called Pokemon. I’d be lying if I said I never had fantasies about waking up in this world and living my days battling for badges, leveling up and chilling at Poke Hospitals. Today, Pokemon Go, which came out two decades after the original, is turning that dream into a reality.
Product — How did they make it so addictive?
There are plenty of great posts explaining how the game works and it’s inns and outs. This is not one of those. Instead, I’ll focus on the parts of the game that are interesting to anyone in the tech world from a business / UX / addictive / “how the hell do you create something this viral” point of view.
#1 — Scarcity (aka Supply and Demand)
Story time — yesterday, after downloading the app, I grabbed my best friend and took a walk around the block to test the waters. Remember, I’m talking about a quiet Tel-Aviv housing neighborhood at 8PM, a country that the game hasn’t been officially released in yet. Within 20 meters of leaving my apartment, I see a 30 year old guy walking his dog. One hand holding the leash, the other on his phone. “What are the chances he’s on Pokemon?” I thought to myself. While passing, I grabbed a quick glance to his screen and saw the easy-to-determine blueish screen of Pokemon Go glowing back! Another fan. Within the next 15 minutes, 6 out of the 20 people I saw were playing the game. Shiat.
The goal of the game is to (physically) walk around until you (eventually) see a Pokemon on your map. You then need to complete a short process of “capturing” it. Up until capturing it, any other player can see the same Pokemon and beat you to it. The most common Pokemon are easily found, while the “better” ones are rare to find. Rumors of “tier-1” Pokemon in an area can easily bring a horde of people wandering around to be the first to get it. Users are quick to share their new captures on social media. The “hunt” is one of the most addictive features this game has. It’s rare to see many apps that succeed to ignite such strong emotions and actually get users out of the house.
#2 Virality and Retention (I NEED it NOW)
You don’t get to be the No. 1 game in the world without having a bit of that “secret viral sauce”. The game is played in the real world. Meaning you need to have your phone out, point at invisible objects and do some actions on your phone. Analyzing this behavior from the side lines is interesting. At first you pity this anti-social person on his mobile. But suddenly you get curious. Is this THAT interesting that he’s actually walking around just for this? I got to check this out. ASAP. That’s virality. Plain and simple.
As runners often say, “it’s a marathon, not a sprint”. The same with the game. It’s not meant (or possible) to finish in a single session. It keeps you playing at various places. Sometimes when walking into a new place, I can’t help myself thinking “I got a feeling there’s a Pikachu in the corner of the room” and need to check that out asap. That kind of retention is a aphrodisiac to anyone who measures daily active users.
#3 — Socialize a bit more
The game only works by leaving the house and get hustlin’ by looking for Pokemon. There are also more advanced features as battling at the local “gym” (a randomly designated building) and obtaining special game tokens. But 95% of the game, at this point, is to wander around exploring new places. This encourages, or actually forces you to:
- Walk around and be active — yes, actuallywalk around and explore the world. With over a third of US children battling with obesity, it’s rare to see a game that accomplishes the opposite. Who of us can say this is a bad thing?
- Be social — While walking around, anytime I saw anyone using the game, there was an instant connection and we engaged each other and talked about the game. Although the talk usually ended along the lines of “What has the world come to?”, this type of “random” social engagement aren’t easy to come by.
Such a diverse and very nice community coming together to be Pokémon Masters! (Posted on Reddit)
#4 — Augmented Reality (AR) -“Charmander is ON my couch!!”
For most humans, seeing a Pokemon in “real life” using augmented reality is still new. Although from a technical point of view the technology is not rocket science, I can’t mention much apps that have this level of AR for the masses. They managed the exact dose of AR to get the “awesome” feel and not the “umm, this is weird” vibe. Trust me, getting your buddy to pose next to a Pidgey is fun. I assume within a few years these types of interactions would excite me less. Although far from perfect, the developers have managed to make placements look reasonable: ground Pokemon are usually standing on the ground, flying Pokemon are usually in the air…etc
#5 — The “Mona Lisa” of MVP’s
For anyone who studied the art of creating a MVP / beta version / lean startup or whatever you’ll call creating a non-perfect version of an app, this is the masterpiece. The Titanic. The Bach. The Game of Thrones. Just the best. Why is this so perfect? Because the app is horribble. Just horrible. The servers are down most of the day. I consistently need to re-login, which involves inputing full email and password. The app actually requests “Full Account Control” for our Google accounts (yes, they can read our emails and our files on Drive). Overall the app is buggy, unintuitive, and has way too many awkwardly built “features”.
But… I still love it! That’s the beauty of an MVP. This is why Pokemon Go version 0.1 is the PERFECT MVP. It provides just enough of the core value of the game. Once people “get it”, they’re hooked. All those before-mentioned “bugs” suddenly seem marginal. Millions of people around the world are using this buggy app at this exact moment. They simply don’t care and that’s the way it should be.
It wasn’t “obvious” this app would be a hit. Hindsight never is. The ultimate goal of an MVP is to test the market and see if the Pokemon (or users) bite. Now that it’s working, I have no doubt the good folks at Niantic will fix all the issues and stablize the game. That’s the boring part.
#6 — Show me the Money
I’ll finish this off with the one topic that as an entrepreneur (and Jewish one), I need to talk about, the money. Too many B2C apps are being critiqued with the ability to deflect revenue and a proper business model. More value today is being placed in the ability to earn the good ol’ Uncle Sams, the faster the better.
While the game is free-to-play, it allows in-app purchases. Mostly items you need to advance and continue playing. How much are Pokeballs really worth? The company is estimated to be earning $1.6M a day! We’re talking first week active. This is probably the highest-margin revenue available. A clean, 100% margin cash machine. Assuming 0% growth / churn, we’re talking about clearing half a billion dollars a year. No wonder they game has sent Nintendo stocks up 40% in the past week, raising the market cap by $9B. Yes. Because of the game.
Let’s wrap it up
Will the game keep on kickin’ and beat metrics for years to come? Probably not. That’s OK. The point is not the game, but the process. Pokemon Go has done so much: from getting millions out of the house, showing that app quality isn’t always that important even proving the ability to become a business and generate cash on demand.
But most of all, it gave this old ‘90s kid another reason to smile.
Gotta catch em all.