Perhaps one of the most surprising stories of 2016 was the complete explosion of Pokémania throughout the world in July. Pokémon, originally launched in 1996 by Nintendo, was a pair of handheld video games in which players caught, trained, and battled a large selection of fictional monsters called Pokémon. The franchise quickly took off, spawning game after game in addition to movies, tv shows, comics, and trading cards. This summer, it made the leap to augmented reality with the help of software developed by Niantic with the release of Pokémon Go.
Pokémon Go brought the monster-catching game to the real world, with real-life landmarks becoming “Pokéstops” used to catch supplies or “Gyms” to battle over, features that were only visible on a player’s phone. The Google-Maps-style overlay also showed Pokémon themselves, allowing players to throw items called Pokéballs to capture them, and eventually train them up to battle others.
Pokémania Sweeps the Nation
The love affair with Pokémon Go was instant. Millions were playing with regularity, visiting real life locales to catch the virtual monsters. Restaurants that happened to be near important in-game landmarks saw their sales increase. Once-empty parks were now full of Pokémon trainers. Players reported that they were more physically active now than they had ever been. This was a result of one of the game’s mechanics by which walking a set distance allows a player to hatch a Pokémon from eggs.
Pokémon Go was downloaded over 500 million times in its first two months, setting numerous records in both app stores and even the Guinness World Book of Records. While the mania has predictably cooled significantly, the game still has tens of millions of active users roaming the world.
One way that Niantic is trying to once again heighten interest around Pokémon Go is with the introduction of the Pokémon Go Plus, a small Bluetooth-controlled device (usually attached to a wristband) that allows players to visit Pokéstops, capture Pokémon, and accumulate walking distance while the user’s phone rests safely locked in her or her pocket. This new product saves trainers the hassle of constantly looking at their phones, which also saves a significant amount of battery life.
This wasn’t a shot-in-the-dark money grab though, but a planned release that many were looking forward to from the start. The emergence of Pokémon Go Plus will help invigorate the current player base while helping to draw former players back into the fold. While it has only been out for a few days, it is expected that it will lead to an uptick in active players and playtime, as well as an uptick in company profits at a tidy $34.99 a pop.
Evolution is Key
One of the features of Pokémon Go and the Pokémon franchise is evolution, where a trainer can turn their basic monster into a bigger, better form. It’s only fitting that Niantic has taken the idea of evolution to heart with their approach of making sure the game is constantly moving full steam ahead. Pokémon Go Plus is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to product development.
Soon, players will be able to trade their Pokémon with other real live people. The battle system will become much more complex. And, of course, the next batch of monsters themselves will join the fray by year’s end. Niantic launched a successful product, but they’ve invested in constantly evolving that product, a winning strategy which will keep current users around and bring new and old users alike back into their arms.