What went wrong with this Pokémon Go article?

The problem with opinions, as they say, is that everyone has one. What went wrong Pokémon Go? Ashley Ringrose reveals lessons from a heavily borrowed and insight free article in this guest post.

What motivates someone with little practical knowledge on a particular subject to write about it?


What went wrong with this Pokémon Go article? Lessons from this heavily borrowed and insight free article.

What motivates someone, with little practical knowledge on a subject, to feel the urge to write about something? Also looking at you another Mark who confused Nintendo’s profit for market capitalisation (no excuse for someone with an MBA in marketing) amongst other things in his “real” lessons from Pokémon Go.

Mark’s (the non-marketing Mark) piece on Pokémon Go and “what went wrong” is just a Frankenstein’s monster of other people’s thoughts that upon reading you end up with no actionable take aways. Worse, I don’t think he actually understands what really went wrong and just repeated the negative echo chamber within games and tech journalism.

The drop in usage for Pokemon Go can be summed up easily with the “The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long”.

Pokémon Go became such a hit that there were people who had no interest in Pokémon (or even gaming) downloading it to see what it was all about. They poked around (pun intended) and then uninstalled it. The game was never going to maintain such a large number of users when they came through such a groundswell of buzz.
pokemon go water
A good metric for a mobile game is the retention rate at days 1,7,14,30,90+. A good day one retention figure is 50% in the Free to Play market (F2P) because it’s free people will download to have a look then delete. It’s almost like picking up a brochure in the store. You don’t add it to the bookshelf.  A good day 90 retention rate for a high performing game is ~30%.

So losing a third of your users after 90+ days is actually well above market trends. Especially for a game like Pokémon Go, which for me lacked the ability for me to enjoy the game while in bed or on the toilet. My two main mobile gaming scenarios.

I checked App Annie for the app charts and while Pokémon Go is now in the 60+ downloaded apps in AU, UK and USA, it’s still the fourth, eighth and second highest grossing apps.  This shows that while downloads are down, usage of the app is still high enough to sustain a top 10 grossing figure. For a game with zero spend on user acquisition (as opposed to the millions a day Supercell, King and Machine Zone spend) it’s the most profitable app by a long shot. That’s almost four months after release in a saturated market that releases 60,000 apps a month.

Yep it’s ‘Pokemon Gone’ – ‘Gone’ to the Cayman Islands to open up a bank account 🙂 #boomtish

So before we even get into Mark’s “lessons” remember, Pokémon Go is still going strong; it’s done a great job of introducing a larger audience to the Pokémon brand, it’s still the most profitable game in the app stores and hasn’t even launched globally yet.

So down to Mark’s lessons:

Lesson 1: Have a clear avenue to capitalise quickly
“The obvious lesson for developers is to have a road map to enhance the game and keep players interested, especially when the core game itself is not very deep.”

The “obvious” (der) lesson here for developers is not to just have a roadmap, Niantic probably did as they had Ingress, which they worked on for five years to base it off, the lesson here is to plan for success better.


Click to enlarge

Pokémon Go launched with such velocity it surprised the developers (50x their estimates) and the game constantly crashed due the millions of players. Any “feature roadmap” would have been tossed out to optimise code, add more servers and deal with bugs that only happen when you have millions of transactions per second. No developer wants to add to the project while the core is broken.

I doubt there are many people reading Mumbrella that will ever have to deal with their app, game, platform getting tens of millions of downloads a day and thus won’t suffer the same fate as Pokémon Go. Well, maybe the people running the Census website. So this lesson is a little useless to the intended audience.

Lesson 2: Do not remove popular features

This lesson applies not just to gaming but to the wider consumer industry; companies should always know what their customers regard as essential, and should never undermine it without putting in place a clear workaround (or ideally, improvement).

Mark fails to mention the reason why the tracking feature was removed. It’s because it was being hacked (a lot). That hacking was the main reason the servers were overloaded which caused issue one. With hundreds of millions of users and every 24hrs feeling like an eternity they had to do something. The quickest solution for the developers was to cut the feature until they could encrypt it (which would be cracked soon after) or change the way it works to be less server intensive (which is less user friendly but safer in the longer-term).  They did both but set them back weeks.

So Niantic didnt want to remove a popular (I’d say critical) feature, they were forced to. The lesson here is you need to again plan for success but also be willing to sacrifice short-term negativity for long term sustainability of the game. Tough decisions never make everyone happy.

Lesson 3: Talk to your customers

The final lesson is here is that communicating with your customers is paramount, particularly when things go wrong. Otherwise, you risk losing their confidence that you care about them and know how to fix the problem.

This is the insight equivalent of saying ‘plan, then act’. Oh, talk to your customers! Write that down!

I agree with Mark that this was an issue for Niantic during launch and I think systemic with the company as they had same non-communication issues with the original  game Ingress.

Mark’s also probably never dealt with gamers on a one-to-many scale before but they can be, via the anonymity of social, a very vocal and angry bunch. Why? Because in a way they are so invested and passionate about your product. And when you’re dealing with a licensed property like Pokémon and hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue and the world’s media is watching and you’re a team of less than 50 trying to hire up, I’d say they just didn’t have the internal support they needed to execute crisis comms.

Where to from here for Pokémon Go?
Mark’s suggestions to increase social events or expand into other markets are thoughtfully referenced from the place he took the ideas from.

This is not Niantic’s first game. Ingress, which was developed five years ago while it was still part of Google, is an impenetrable mess of stats and complex systems (even for me as a hardcore gamer).

The more casual audience of Pokémon Go will challenge them to provide a better experience for both hardcore players (the ones spending all that money on it) and new players, the mass they need for word-of-mouth user acquisition.

Focusing on the game itself, here’s my few tips:

Cater to Mobile Usage trends

The issue I had with the game was providing any fun while stationary. I’d look into that with an idle toy/mini game or practice element or really something to do while at school, trapped in a boardroom or just sitting on the toilet.

Provide a way for n00bs to enjoy the game

The gym battles were not only too basic but there was such a race to the top that anyone who wasn’t fully committed to the game was left out as their basic Pokémon can’t battle the highly-evolved ones. After losing several battles I lost interest in ever trying.Pokemon

Give me more than just ‘collect them all’

More robust meta game (game over the top of the individual game) that is socially tied together. Where this is a national (NSW vs Vic) or international (USA vs the world) style ranking? But while I’ve spent this whole piece poking holes in Mark’s article I feel I should share what I see as the real lessons marketing/advertising should learn from Pokémon Go.

1: Mobile gaming is mainstream: The diverse range of people I saw playing Pokémon Go on the opening week around Sydney was astounding. I’ve seen more mature women playing it than kids around Ultimo.

2: The power of entertainment IP: Wrap a global entertainment IP around something and it gets attention even if heavily flawed. But advertisers have known this forever with celebrity endorsements. Expect to see Harry Potter Go, Transformers Go, Star Wars Go or even Premier League Go in the future.

3: There is money to made in mobile gaming: Pokémon Go is generating millions of dollars a day in revenue via a team of  less than100 people. (At the time of launch they were less than 50) While media publishers face falling revenue from advertising and brands face falling profits thanks to dictated half price promotions they are missing the huge opportunity to monetise their audiences and customers through mobile gaming. soap-collective-thumb-drift-screen-shot
For context (and I’m always one to practice what I preach) our recent self-funded mobile game Thumb Drift launched Feb 2016 has received a modest 10 million downloads, already made seven figures net revenue and probably generated more video ad views than half the SVOD platforms in Australia and was built by a core team of less than five in six months.

We have millions of male, 15-35, car-obsessed fans with our game on their phone and we spent under $50k on marketing. Plenty of automotive brands would love that.oreo-twist-lick-dunk-game-screen-shot

Mondelez is on the right track with Oreo and I think the penny dropped for Bonin Bough (vice president of global media and consumer engagement) in 2014 when he said:  “When I sit across the table from Candy Crush the only thing I’m thinking is ‘I hate you’. But they have 780 million users, their average price per year, per user is higher than the average candy bar that I sell. I’m the number one candy company in the world and I don’t have the number one candy gaming platform in the world. That’s scary. We have to get there.”

Good point. And they are just now rolling out this plan with a Sour Patch game.

So don’t be like Mondelez and after having success in 2012 with the Oreo game, two years later realise you missed an opportunity and then two more years to follow up on it. Less talk, more doing.

Ashley Radcliffe-Ringrose is studio head at SMG Studio and founder of Soap Creative


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.