Few mobile games have enjoyed both the meteoric rise — and subsequent fall — in popularity as “Pokemon Go.”
But the app remains profitable, and people are still playing, even if they aren't the same masses that roamed parks and sidewalks last summer with their eyes glued to their smartphones, looking for virtual cartoon monsters from their childhoods to appear right in front of them.
“It kind of brings people together to have a conversation about these little cartoon characters that we're all in love with,” said Brian Swain, a sales representative for Rockstar energy drink who has stuck with “Pokemon Go” since it launched in July.
Although it’s past its heyday of last summer, when some small businesses and landmarks had complained of disruptive crowds, the game has seen renewed interest after last month's addition of 80 Pokemon. In-game events set around holidays such as Halloween and Easter have helped as well.
The additions addressed complaints about a lack of updates that had contributed to a drop in monthly active users, according to app market analyst Apptopia.
“Over time, the enthusiasm has waned, but there's still quite a bit of people playing it,” said Joost van Dreunen, chief executive of SuperData Research in New York. “It raises the question: Was it a fad, a thing we only did one time for one game, or is it going to hold people's attention longer?”
The game had generated $1 billion in revenue as of January, and Niantic Inc. CEO John Hanke insists “Pokemon Go” is no passing fad. Niantic is the San Francisco software development company behind the game.
“Pokemon Go” — which generated traffic its servers had difficulty handling last summer — will fulfill long-sought and long-promised additions of “legendary” Pokemon and the ability for players to battle and trade with each other, he said.
“What happened last summer was really kind of strange, where 'Pokemon Go' spiraled out of control to this level of cultural awareness that nobody expected, certainly not us,” Hanke said. The “extremely successful” game now has usage “at a more normal level,” he said.
The game still has enviable followings in Japan, China and South Korea as well as North America, Dreunen said.
Since the release of “Pokemon Go,” Dreunen said, the $40.6-billion worldwide mobile game industry has become flooded, and investment may shift to mobile games that rely on well-loved characters and provide frequent updates.
Developers will need to take lessons from Nintendo’s “Super Mario Run,” which launched for the iPhone in December. Interest in the game quickly fizzled, in part because access to the full app costs $10. By contrast, “Pokemon Go” is free to download, although players can make in-app purchases.
As spring approaches, there are signs of new life. Milwaukee County has prepared for “Pokemon Go” and future augmented-reality games by requiring game developers to obtain a permit to get players into parks.
In Maine, members of the “Pokemon Go 207” Facebook group have noticed more screenshots from players taking up the game again.
Nick Fournier, a 21-year-old media studies student at the University of Southern Maine, said he's glad the company has begun listening to players' complaints. He described last summer as a phenomenon — brought on by the nostalgia the game evoked and by the technology's novelty — that he doesn't expect to see again.
Erin Morrison, a 23-year-old schoolteacher living in Greene, Maine, said she has kept playing through a dreary winter by driving to places she knew had multiple spots to catch Pokemon.
“With the new update, it's been so awesome,” she said. “I'm seeing so many people coming back out.”