Pokemon Go, developed by Niantic Labs in conjunction with the Pokemon Company, has become the extraordinary breakout hit of 2016. The location based twist on the familiar “gotta catch ‘em all” game mechanics has captivated players across the world, despite the fact the game is technically only available in the US, New Zealand and Australia.
But what impact has the game had on the mobile games space and the industry as a whole? Here are five ways that Pokemon Go has shaken up, and even started to change, the gaming world around us.
1) Storming The Mobile App Charts
The mobile app charts have, for the most part, been stagnant for a few years. Aside from a handful of newer titles that have scrapped to a reasonable position in the top 20, the lion’s share of top grossing games remain long established service titles – such as Candy Crush Saga.
Pokemon Go has changed that. In the week since its launch, it has rushed straight to the top of both the free download and the top grossing charts in the US – becoming the fastest game to achieve the notable double.
And though we have been in a position before where an insurgent has soared into the charts before falling away (Fallout Shelter, anyone?), Pokemon Go differs at the moment because its release has been limited so far.
Although US sales and download figures have been inflated by gamers across the world working out ways to grab the game early, the game’s success has nevertheless been achieved without a full release in Asia or Europe. That suggests there is a real opportunity for further success.
2) Changing The Mobile Gaming Technology Rules
When Pokemon Go was announced,it was clear that the Pokemon Company was taking a big punt on unproven mobile technologies.
The decision to release a flagship mobile title using augmented reality (AR) and location tech as major in game mechanics had to be seen as a gamble, particularly since the only other game built upon such an approach was the relatively niche (though well designed) Ingress.
However, the decision has paid off wonderfully. Offering players the chance to go out into the real world to catch Pokemon, and thus fulfil decades worth of idle dreaming, has completely captured the attention of the market: opening the sector up to a number of new technological opportunities.
3) Crushing It On Social Media
Pokemon Go’s success isn’t just down to its technology. It’s also benefitted from becoming the viral gaming story of the year, with stories rolling in from thousands of social media users.
— Sam Thorne (@Strippin) July 13, 2016
Crowds of players are gathering in public spaces in the US to play Pokemon Go together; memes and hilarious Pokemon Go tales are being shared wildly on the internet. Players are even helping others outside of the launch territories to download the game, either by creating new app store account on iOS or side loading the Pokemon Go APK file on Android.
It’s hard to measure the precise amount of social media content that has been created by Pokemon Go fans. But as the following tweet shows, it has become the most searched about game in mobile gaming history by a country mile: making it a serious popular success story.
#PokemonGO‘s search interest compared to the other biggest apps over time.
It’s… quite something. pic.twitter.com/Tm4pEoEZbr
— Ryan Brown (@Toadsanime) July 12, 2016
4) Reshaping Media Attitudes To Mobile Games
One of the biggest surprises of the Pokemon Go launch has been the extent to which mainstream games media has covered the game.
While the mobile gaming press has, understandably, been all over it like a rash, the likes of Eurogamer, Kotaku and IGN have covered the game extensively and benefitted from serious spikes in traffic.
On top of that, the game has also attracted the interest of the main pillars of the media in general. The New Yorker, The Times, The Washington Post and more have covered the game, both looking at it as a social phenomenon and highlighting problems with the game (such as instances where players have inappropriately captured Pokemon at cemetaries or museums).
Of course, there are always going to be times when games do cut through the noise and reach the pages of our major news publications. But the extent to which Pokemon Go has and the consistency of its coverage across media verticals is impressive and important to keep in mind.
5) Changing Societal Perceptions Towards Games
Finally, and related to the game’s media coverage, Pokemon Go has helped positively shape the perceptions of digital games in the media.
With video games always, and incredibly tiresomely, having to defend themselves from accusations of being anti-social products that encourage people to stay indoors, Pokemon Go is a refreshingly useful counterpoint for the industry to point to.
And though it may be short lived, the stories about communities of players coming together to enjoy the game show that Pokemon Go could, broadly speaking, provide a helpful boost to the reputation of gaming as a whole.
What happens next for Pokemon Go is impossible to tell. Perhaps it will become a long lasting hit, with players spending the next few years actively hunting Pokemon every day throughout the seasons. Or maybe people will get bored of it and the flame will die within a few weeks.
Nevertheless, Pokemon Go remains a landmark release. Becoming a proof of concept for a number of technologies, reasserting the value of IP and showing the sheer mind boggling potential for mobile games even in a saturated market, it’s going to have a long lasting influence on the mobile games space and the games industry as a whole.