I went away for a short holiday with family this past weekend and didn’t pay much attention to gaming news. Imagine my surprise, then, reading the headlines on Tuesday morning and finding thatPokémon Go, by some measures the most insanely popular mobile game of all time, had already “lost its lustre,” as the headline from our own UK correspondent put it.
There’s definitely some basis for such a summary. Pokémon God has lost more than 12 million active users since its peak of just above 45 million in mid-July, according to Apptopia data summarised in a Bloomberg report. That month-long, roughly 25-percent drop from peak usage certainly sounds like the beginning of the end for what was recently an unquestionable phenomenon. Projecting things out linearly, you might even expect Pokémon Go to completely lose its user base by winter.
When you look at Pokémon Go‘s decline next to other mobile games, however, the expected drop-off in players doesn’t look so dire or so surprising. WhilePokémon Go‘s popularity peak might already be behind it, there’s reason to believe the game’s long tail can continue to attract millions (if not tens of millions) of loyal players for a long while.
The big drop-off
Back in those heady days of early July, it was easy to believe that Pokémon Go‘s stratospheric growth would last forever. But that was never realistic. After attracting so much attention so quickly,Pokémon Go seemed destined to hit something of a saturation point with its potential market of players sooner rather than later.
This is in contrast to some viral mobile gaming hits of the past, which tended to start slowly and only reached their ultra-popular peaks many months after launch. Candy Crush Saga, for instance,only saw 10 million downloads in December 2012, shortly after its launch. The original Angry Birds took nine whole months to reach just 20 million downloads. Pokémon Go, on the other hand, saw an unprecedented 100 million downloads in its first month, according to estimates derived from App Annie.
With Pokémon Go‘s daily player numbers already declining, though, those light-speed initial download numbers have already slowed significantly. The question now becomes how fast we can expect the inevitable drop-off in players to be.
Data aggregated from other mobile apps isn’t too encouraging on this score. The analysts at App see estimate that the average mobile game only keeps 22 percent of its users a month after their first install. An analysis by Adjust is even more pessimistic, suggesting the average game falls “to between 5 percent and 15 percent of retained users on day 30 after install.”
That means, of the 100 million people that downloaded Pokémon Go by early August, we should expect that, on average, only 22 million at most would still be playing the game by the end of August. Even accounting for an unknown number of new app downloads during August, that makes Pokémon Go‘s current mark of about 33 million daily players seem well in line with expectations. If anything, the game might be a little stickier than average.
There’s one problem with that kind of analysis, though: the average drop-off for a mobile game is not distributed evenly across the app marketplace. An analysis by startup-watcher Andrew Chen, using data from mobile intelligence startup Quetta, suggests that a top 10 Android app (which describes Pokémon Go by any stretch of the imagination) can expect to keep about 60 percent of its users 30 days after the initial installation.
By that measure, at some point in August we should have seen at least 60 million people (of the game’s 100 million downloads) showing up as daily active users. Instead, by Apptopia’s estimate, the game peaked around 45 million players. Different methodologies from the different companies measurements could explain some of this difference, but they only go so far. Looked at this way, Pokémon Go seems a bit less sticky than other “top 10” apps.