I went on vacation with family last weekend and didn’t pay much attention to gaming news. Imagine my surprise when I read the headlines Tuesday morning and found that pokemon goby some standards the most insanely popular mobile game of all time, had already “lost its luster”, as our own UK correspondent’s headline put it.
There is certainly some basis for such a summary. pokemon go has lost more than 12 million active users since peaking at just over 45 million in mid-July, according to data from Apptopia summarized in a Bloomberg report. That month-long drop of about 25 percent from peak usage certainly sounds like the beginning of the end for what has been an indisputable phenomenon recently. You would even expect to project things linearly pokemon go to completely lose its user base by winter.
If you look at pokemon go‘s drop alongside other mobile games, but the expected drop in players doesn’t look that terrible or that surprising. While pokemon goWhile the popularity peak may already be behind it, there is reason to believe that the game’s long tail could continue to attract millions (if not tens of millions) of loyal players for a long time to come.
The big fallout
In those heady days of early July, that was easy to believe pokemon gostratospheric growth would last forever. But that was never realistic. After attracting so much attention so quickly, pokemon go seemed destined to reach a saturation point with its potential market of players sooner rather than later.
This is in contrast to some viral mobile gaming hits of the past, which tended to be slow to start and only reach their ultra-popular peaks many months after launch. Candy Crush Saga, for example, was downloaded just 10 million times in December 2012, shortly after its launch. The original Angry Birds took nine whole months to reach just 20 million downloads. pokemon goon the other hand, saw an unprecedented 100 million downloads in its first month, according to App Annie estimates.
Of pokemon goDaily player numbers are already declining, but those initial light-speed download numbers have already slowed significantly. The question now becomes how soon we can expect the inevitable player outages.
Data collected from other mobile apps isn’t too encouraging at this point. Appsee analysts estimate that the average mobile game only retains 22 percent of its users a month after initial installation. An analysis by Adjust is even more pessimistic, suggesting that the average game drops “to between 5 percent and 15 percent of retained users by day 30 after installation.”
That is, of the 100 million people who downloaded pokemon go at the beginning of August we can expect that there will be only 22 million on average at most would still be playing the game at the end of August. That even accounts for an unknown number of new app downloads in August pokemon gothe current figure of around 33 million daily players seems well in line with expectations. The game might be a little stickier than average.
There’s one problem with that kind of analysis, though: the average drop-off for a mobile game isn’t evenly distributed across the app marketplace. An analysis by startup watcher Andrew Chen, using data from mobile intelligence startup Quettra, suggests that a top 10 Android app (which describes pokemon go in all likelihood) can expect to retain about 60 percent of its users 30 days after initial installation.
By that yardstick, we should have seen it sometime in August at least 60 million people (out of the game’s 100 million downloads) appear as daily active users. Instead, the game peaked at around 45 million players, according to Apptopia’s estimate. Different methodologies of the different companies’ measurements could explain some of this difference, but they go no further. Viewed this way, pokemon go seems a bit less tacky than other “top 10” apps.
High peak, long tail
There is good news in Chen’s analysis for this pokemon gohowever, the long-term outlook. After a significant drop in the first week or so after installation, Chen finds that app usage drops much more slowly over the next two months. For example, after losing about 25 percent of its initial users in the first week after installation, an average “top 10” app can expect to lose another 25 percent of that initial user base over the next three months.
As Chen puts it, “the majority of users who get stuck for seven days stick around for much longer.” Fellow analyst Ankit Jain put it another way: “The key to success is getting the users hooked during that critical initial period of three to seven days.” It’s hard to estimate how much pokemon go players got “hooked” during that crucial first week. Still, anecdotal evidence of the craze surrounding the game’s launch last month suggests pokemon go perhaps “grabbier” than average right out of the gate. That would suggest a healthier, longer tail of continued player support.
Either way, the numbers suggest that the current failure rate for pokemon go– that is, the loss of 12 million daily users in a month – is unlikely to continue for the foreseeable future. Instead, we’re more likely to see a slow progression, with perhaps 5 million to 10 million more current players leaving the game by mid-October (a number that doesn’t account for the new installs that are no doubt still happening).
Aggregate data on user retention after the first few months is harder to come by, but we can grab a few data points from other very popular mobile games. For example, in late 2013, about a year after the launch of iOS, King said Candy Crush Saga had retained 93 million daily users on 500 million total installs. And in October 2011, almost two years after the launch of iOS, Rovio’s Angry Birds still had 30 million daily players out of 400 million total downloads.
Let’s conservatively estimate that, after rising to 100 million downloads in a month, pokemon go slows down significantly, with only 40 million more downloads the following year and 10 million more the year after that. Based on raw player retention figures from other ultra-popular games, we could expect around 26 million pokemon go players are still hunting AR monsters daily in mid-2017 and 11.25 million daily players in mid-2018.
You can quibble both ways with these rough estimates, of course. You may think practically anyone who will pokemon go already downloaded it and new downloads will absolutely crash. Maybe you think pokemon goThe superficial gameplay makes it more like Draw something, a mobile hit that saw player numbers quickly fall off a cliff after an initial surge. Perhaps you think that future app updates and new features will lead to a renewed interest from lapsed or hesitant players.
Details aside, though, it’s hard to envision a world in which pokemon go has not long involved millions of daily players – or even tens of millions -. By all accounts, that would still be an incredibly successful and profitable game, even if it looks weak compared to the early peak (and even if it doesn’t maintain the slower, more sustainable long run of previous mobile hits).
pokemon go‘s ridiculously strong opening means it may already be declining in popularity and still an insanely popular game moving forward. And so far there isn’t too much evidence for that pokemon goThe company’s decline is unusual for mobile apps in general.
In other words, even if a gaming phenomenon is as big as pokemon go should fade eventually, that certainly won’t happen overnight.