The long awaited Pokémon game for mobile devices is finally here. People who played the original Red and Blue versions of the game on their Game Boys have long since graduated to smartphones and finally have a fix for catching them all without an additional handheld.
It’s been a long time coming but developer, Niantic and The Pokémon Company have created one of the most compelling examples of best practices in mobile, now available for iOS and Android whilst simultaneously delivering a refreshing take on the old gameplay with a heavy dose of Augmented Reality.
It’s also incredibly addictive.
— mplatco (@mplatco) July 7, 2016
The core gameplay of Pokémon Go takes the traditional “walk around using the d-pad/stylus until a random encounter happens” and adds location services (battery life warning!) and your iPhone’s camera to the mix. You physically walk to new Pokéstops and find Pokémon in the wild. We found a Bulbasaur just hanging around our office, and the nearest Moe’s Southwest Grill has a wall decoration of Stevie Ray Vaughn that functions as a Pokéstop.
All of this makes for a different experience than most users are used to, whilst still retaining the familiar “Gotta catch ’em all” gameplay fans of the franchise know and love.
At the core of this experience is augmented reality, using a device’s camera to superimpose a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world, providing a composite view. It’s still rare in games, but has been gaining traction in non-gaming apps and even mobile ads for several years now.
You may be more familiar with Snapchat’s dog filter.
Very few augmented reality games so far have hit critical mass the way Pokémon Go has. The staying power of the game will surely inform trends in mobile titles for a long time to come as mobile devices get more and more powerful and able to make experiences just as dynamic and interesting as Pokémon Go more common.
Regional testing for mobile games is something that big AAA publishers do regularly, but tends to be overlooked by smaller developers. Starting with what Niantic called a “field test” in Japan in March, Pokémon Go had a limited beta release in Australia and New Zealand in late April before another beta in the US in late May.
Typically, this testing takes the form of public release in the targeted regions, with minimal user acquisition. Given the wide interest in a mobile Pokémon app, an invite-only beta helped them target specific demographics.
Niantic started with Japan due to the popularity of Pokémon in The Land of the Rising Sun, and their expansion to Australia and New Zealand is typical, for a clear and obvious reason – General demographics in the region are generally considered to be close enough to the United States to be statistically significant.
Publishers going straight to wide release run the risk of alienating great users with untested or “best guess” gameplay and monetization strategies.
The Pokemon Company has said the game is “coming soon to Canada, Europe, and South America.” This rollout for a high-profile IP like Pokémon also serves to build hype with minimal marketing and UA expenditure when the game does release in a given region.
The hype was strong indeed. US players were refreshing the app store repeatedly as soon as news that the game was live in Australia hit the web. Due to the time difference, it took several hours to be released to the US iTunes store.
Like the most successful mobile games currently, Pokémon Go is free, but has a host of in-app purchases, including Pokéballs to actually catch the titular pocket monsters in the wild, lures, experience boosters, and more.
The items are priced in Pokécoins and range from just 80 coins, to 1250 Pokécoins.
In app-purchase prices of Pokécoins range from the low end $0.99 for 20, all the way to 14,500 for $149.00.
If there were ever any doubt that engaging gameplay is the core of a strong in-app economy, the current US IAP chart for Pokémon Go puts that to rest.
- 100 PokéCoins $1.49
- 550 PokéCoins $7.49
- 1,200 PokéCoins $14.99
- 2,500 PokéCoins $29.99
- 14,500 PokéCoins $149.99
- 5,200 PokéCoins $59.99
Charizard in the Room
For publishers of any size, Pokémon Go is a title to watch. Already at almost 9,000 reviews in the App Store and almost 30,000 on Google Play, with an average rating of 4 stars, it’s already doing very well. Every developer and publisher, from the smallest home developer to the largest AAA publisher should be paying attention. The first Pokémon Go game for mobile is, at its heart, perfect storm of a strong IP, fresh technology innovation from AR, a wide range of IAP options for every size digital wallet, and thorough, long term testing and user feedback makes it a textbook example of what to do right.
UPDATE (July 9, 2016) – Pokémon Go has had some hiccups with servers since launch. Things may not be perfect, but Niantic and The Pokémon Company have one of those problems publishers and developers love to have; being too popular. There’s always room for improvement.
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