A version of this essay was originally published on LinkedIn.
If Pokémon goes up, must it and will it come down? Is Pokémon Go just another fad, or is this a genre-changing game that's here to stay?
Four years ago, Draw Something — a game made by myself and the team at OMGpop — burst out of the gate with 50 million downloads in 50 days. Pokémon Go has already seen 7.5 million downloads, and with all the press and social media exposure, it will surely continue its explosive run. Despite privacy concerns, the game has terrific game design, which has been well documented by others.
My task is to answer these questions: If Pokémon goes up, must it and will it come down? Is Pokémon Go just another fad, or is this a genre-changing game that's here to stay?
In its favor are the following attributes:
It's a game built on 20 years of legacy with deep cultural resonance among millions of players. The game barely even has a tutorial, because who doesn't know how to catch Pokémon? To build a brand like a Candy Crush or a Clash of Clans from scratch is extremely hard. In its favor is the fact that a 28-year-old playing Pokémon Go on his $500 iPhone gets to feel like a kid again. Few other games can do that.
It's uniquely social. Friends tell each other that their office is a great place to catch Pokémon, and my son and I met folks hiking in the Catskills who were also catching Pokémon. It's cool to be playing Pokémon Go right now, and sharing Snapchat stories about others who are, as well.
It has leveled game play, which can keep players engaged in short-term goals and achievements.
Pokémon Go also has the attributes to support a big bang and then a slow fizzle:
The game is IRL social, but that's not sustainable like true social. In a game like Draw Something or Words With Friends, the other player provides the content. It's an endless stream of content that takes the pressure off the game developer and enhances already existing social connections, mostly in private. That's what a good messaging app does, and what Pokémon Go does not do.
Game dynamics like Match-3 (Candy Crush and Bejeweled) and Tetris tend to work on our brains in a different way. Anyone who has ever dreamed about matching falling blocks can understand that matching and tidying up are psychological twists that cause both pleasure and repeated game play. Pokémon Go is exhilarating, but lacks this human compulsion (although it does have collecting, another core compulsion).
I believe that while there are many people able to create a game, there are very few who are excellent at leveling in games — at creating that moment right before you say you will never play again, the game understands, and then you advance. For the casual Pokémon Go player, the joy of early play, I believe, will eventually be replaced by gyms that are too competitive and Pokémon that are too hard to find. At the moment you want to quit, you probably will, because the game will become too difficult and the purview of only the truly dedicated.
Pokémon Go will most certainly be the game of the summer, but I believe that its numbers will fall back to earth, as it lacks certain attributes that will retain millions of players a year from now.
So while I believe that Pokemon Go will have a great run, and will most certainly be the game of the summer, I do believe that its numbers will fall back to earth, as it lacks certain attributes that will retain millions of players a year from now. That being said, I believe that its run will be longer than expected and, most of all, that its eventual leveling and dip are not a cause for concern.
At its height, Draw Something had 24 million daily active players. While the numbers decreased from that height, the remaining number of players was still so astronomical that it created a great deal of value. My rough and conservative estimate is that Pokémon Go is generating around $.20 per DAU.
So, yes, we are all jumping on that Pokémon Go bandwagon now. And many of us will fall off. Yet while the press narrative will document the casual players who fall off, and there will be millions, with a base of hardcore, nostalgia-oriented players remaining, the game will be just fine. Fine to the tune of around $75 million in annual revenue for every one million players in the game. And if they can maintain around seven million DAU, from what will surely be a much larger short-term number, they can come close to doubling their revenues.
You don't always have to catch them all.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.