Today marks the one year anniversary of the augmented reality game that took the world by storm. The app that overlays little monsters on top of real world images using geolocation technology that was originally started as an April Fool’s joke in 2014 quickly broke records and became an immediate phenomenon when it was released to the public on July 6, 2016. It is estimated that the app made over 4 million dollars within 24 hours of release and has been said to be the fastest game to make more than 600 million dollars in revenue within the first 90 days. In its first week, it had more downloads from the Apple Store than any other app in history, and to date, it’s been downloaded over 750 million times.
But – how many of you are still playing? Probably not many. This app could be considered a “fad” in every sense of the word. While it was an instant sensation for a short period of time, its popularity dropped quickly. In fact, as of April 2017, the number of daily players sat at about 5 million. This might still seem like a lot, but is less than 1% of the total downloads. Although this this phenomenon of drop in usage is fairly common for game apps (the average shelf life of most games sits at about 2 months), one would think that showed so much promise would have weathered the storm better than the average game app.
While AMT Lab has provided extensive recent coverage of AR in the arts, such as contributor Mandy Ding’s recent publication on AR in Museums as well as how it has been featured at conferences we attended in the past year such as Museums and the Web and the National Arts Marketing Project. Yet, further evaluation and analysis of Pokémon Go’s story can lead to many lessons learned for arts organizations who are currently using or thinking of attempting augmented reality apps of their own. As an arts manager, perhaps you could try to “catch ‘em all”:
1. Only launch your game once it is ready, and continue to add additional features once to keep users engaged. Pokémon Go was arguably ill prepared for its popularity from the start. Many players had issues even launching the game in the beginning, it was missing a significant number of important features for those who could, and it then took the developers more time than users to add more than users were willing to wait. This caused a sharp decline in usage, because players became bored and once they move on, it’s hard to win them back. By the time additions to the game were made, such as wearable device integration, much of the user base had already became disengaged with the game as demonstrated by the drop in daily use. Arts organizations should plan strategically when releasing an AR app for their patron base and already have new features in the works upon release so that the app does not quickly become stale.
2. Communicate with and be open to app feedback from your users. App developer Nitanic was criticized for changing the rules to the game overnight without any clear communication to its users. While some video game developers will give players months of advanced notice, there was simply a single tweet from the Pokémon Go Twitter account about a significant change to the game. This angered players and spurred negative social media commentary amongst fans, however, the developers barely acknowledged the feedback and when they did, were slow to respond. When launching your own app, be sure to let your users know in advance about important functionality changes and respond quickly when there are issues or concerns.
3. Don’t change or remove popular features unless necessary. As mentioned, the game was not perfect, and in order to make it easier for players, third parties developed certain add-on features to make the game more usable. Instead of acknowledging the game’s flaws and developing similar in-house upgrades to improve the user experience, Niantic did the opposite. They issued cease and desist letters to those third party vendors without offering similar or better replacement features within their own app. If your game is popular enough to have third party vendors creating work arounds, take this as a positive sign, and either work with these vendors, or create your own better features to remove the need for external technological support for your own app.
4. Do what you can on your end to help your app to go viral. Pokémon Go achieved such instant success in part thanks to social media integration. The app allowed and encouraged users to share what was happening on their screen on their social media accounts. In fact, within the first seven days of the app’s launch, there were nearly 650 million interactions on social media relating to Pokémon Go. There were also more tweets about Pokémon Go for this same time period than about Brexit for a seven day count around the same time frame. For better or worse, we live in a world of constant communication. Do not discount the impact that social media has on the success of an app, as it is essentially free word of mouth advertising among your patrons, enhances their engagement, and can easily build community.
5. Consider your age demographic and include personalization. Pokémon Go allows users to customize their avatar, play on their own or on a team, and even name the Pokémons that they capture. This allows for increased user engagement and makes the game seem more real and relevant. Additionally, whether intentional or not, Niatanic used the fact that millennials, an age group that is inclined to use AR technology more than older generations, grew up with the Pokémon brand with more beta technology. This increased the level of nostalgia among these players and although the game in its current form was brand new, the concept and characters were not. Consider who will be using your AR app and be creative with how you allow users to engage their own creativity and identity creation.
Are you still playing Pokémon Go? Are you using and loving a different AR app? Tell us about it in the comments below!