In July of this year Pokemon Go swept across most of the planet like a digital tsunami. The countries it did not reach was actually a story for a while, and Olympians lamented their inability to catch Pokemon in Brazil. Pokemon Go was as intense a consumer tech news phenomenon as we have seen in quite a while.
And now? Picture tumbleweeds.
As measured by Google Trends search volume for the term "Pokemon Go" leapt from 1 on a scale of 1 to 100 on July 4, to 100 eight days later on July 12. It took eight days to go from the least searched about thing on the internet to the most searched about thing. As of today search volume for the term is down to 12 on the scale.
Another telling measure is my 14 year-old. In late July the boy who only spoke to his friends on Skype while playing games such as Overwatch, League of Legends, and CSGO was suddenly taking walks with his friends in order to recapture Pokemon Gyms. In August he and his friends were watching old episodes of the TV show out of nostalgia. By labor day he declared the game dead and he is starting to look pale again.
My 11 year-old tends to concur with his older brother. He believes the game to be 'mostly dead'. He is unlikely to open the app, unless I say there is a Squirtle nearby. He does not play it without some sort of prompt, but knows others in school who continue to actively play.
And adults? I still play out of a combination of professional curiosity (I want to see how it evolves) and a somewhat addictive personality. I am just about to hit level 20 and I am only 5 km from my 100 km medal. That I know those two things should be enough to explain my level of engagement.
The landscape I just painted, interestingly enough, is the exactly what the Pokemon audience has been for years. I learned this from the folks at Nintendo in London through work. The Pokemon sweet-spot is pretty young, the majority of their consumers are in elementary school. Most kids age out of the brand entirely, although some will continue to collect merchandise even though they stop playing the card game, video game and no longer watch the TV show. There is even a hard core which stays involved as adults. Nintendo has never found a way – or perhaps been willing to invest enough – to retain active brand enthusiasts as they age out of the sweet spot. They do what they can in the field, but HQ has never seen a real compelling reason to invest. Part of that reluctance on the part of leadership is due to living in the bubble of Tokyo, where Nintendo's brand is a behemoth in so many ways. But to be fair, how much would they really gain by investing more?
Pokemon Go, for 60 days anyway, looked like it might represent a motivating reason to try and extend brand engagement to a wider, and older audience. And certainly Pokemon Go is not dead, but it has crested and will continue to fall in popularity. If Nintendo can figure out how to capitalize on the huge spike in brand awareness and brand nostalgia the game created -- for what is a very mature brand -- the company should have a very profitable holiday season.
More importantly, back to the tumbleweed analogy. The tumbleweed is a plant that breaks off from its base when it dies and is carried along the ground by wind. Why does it do this? That is how it resows, dispersing seeds as the wind rolls it along. And that is exactly what I expect Pokemon Go to do. When all the clients got back from August vacation they called their agencies and demanded the next Pokemon go. Same is true for many mobile software studies and consumer brands. Make me the next Pokemon Go.
How long will it be before we see the MARVEL version of Pokemon Go? Within the next year, certainly. MARVEL (I've worked with them, they really want the brand in ALL CAPS) -- has more than 700 characters. And those characters group easily into teams. Perhaps not the 347 teams listed in the MARVEL database, but they have many major categories including the Asgardians, Avengers, Brotherhood of Mutants, Deadpool Corps, Fantastic Four, Guardians of the Galaxy, Hydra, S.H.I.E.L.D., X-Men and more. Those groupings lend themselves to a much more interesting take on teams and battles than the limited offering from Pokemon Go. Of course, there is no reason D.C. Comics could not beat them to the punch.
There are so many interesting ways to build upon what Niantic created with Pokemon Go, expanding and improving to make gameplay less repetitive and more sticky. Finding ways to incorporate short-term (think movie releases in the MARVEL analogy), partnerships and eCommerce. In brainstorms across the world teams of people are thinking about this. Many of them will get nowhere. No, the world does not need a motor oil branded version of Pokemon Go where you collect NASCAR drivers and cars. Or heaven forbid, a P&G version where we collect consumer products in the aisles at Target. But some, more appropriate ideas will succeed and I am looking for to seeing how the concept evolves.
My point is that, like the dying tumbleweed, Pokemon Go is propagating even as its popularity wanes.