Pokémon Go Takes Over the World
SAN JUAN – It’s Saturday night in Old San Juan, and almost everyone out in the street, many of them tourists who have stepped off nearby cruiseships, have their faces glued to their smartphone screens.
Occasionally, they scamper off to a corner, and point the phone’s camera toward an indeterminate location, all the while flicking their finger at the screen. In short, Pokémon-mania has just taken over Puerto Rico, much as it has in the rest of the world.
“Blockbuster” seems too tame a word to describe the wild success that Pokémon Go—a mobile, location-based, augmented reality game available on iOS and Android smartphones—has had since it officially launched July 6 in several markets, including the U.S., Australia and New Zealand.
The release of the game in other markets has been more staggered. In Puerto Rico, for instance, the game’s launch experienced some hiccups at first, mainly due to overloaded servers, but the problems were fixed within the first week.
The game, developed by San Francisco-based company Niantic Labs—which began as a startup within Google before it was spun off into as its own entity in October 2015—and featuring characters partly owned by gaming giant Nintendo, rapidly became the most downloaded app on mobile platforms.
On the iOS platform, specifically, the game broke first-week records on Apple’s App Store, and similarly topped the charts in Google’s Play Store, with some estimates pointing that the game has been downloaded a total of 40 million times as of late July.
According to research firm SurveyMonkey Intelligence, more than 25 million smartphone owners used the app on July 14, and the number has remained steady ever since. In addition, people are spending more time, on average, inside Pokémon Go than in other apps such as Facebook, according to SensorTower, another research firm.
The game is also on its way to becoming the year’s biggest business story. For instance, just two days after the game’s launch, Nintendo added $7.5 billion to its market value, with the company’s market capitalization eventually increasing by more than double in the following weeks, from around $20 billion to $42 billion.
However, the effect on Nintendo’s bottom line is up in the air, as the company only owns 32% of the Pokémon Co., a consortium that licenses and markets the franchise. Game Freak Inc., a Japanese videogame developer, and Creatures Inc., also based in Japan and mostly associated with Pokémon trading cards and toys, make up the other joint owners. As a result, Nintendo’s stock price has since gone down by about 15% after its mid-July peak.
The Pokémon franchise is far from new, dating back to 1995 with a pair of videogames developed for the original Nintendo Game Boy, although the Pokémon craze didn’t hit the U.S. with full force until the release of an animated series in 1998.
In most of the games released under the franchise—more than 25 in the main series so far, and countless other spinoffs—the player takes the role of a “trainer” who tries to find and capture fictional creatures called “Pokémon” by means of a special “Pokéball” that, if thrown the right way, can capture the creature. Captured Pokémon can then be used to wage battles with creatures captured by other players in “gyms.”
What has set Pokémon Go apart from its predecessors is the game’s use of GPS—more specifically the Google Maps app—and the smartphone’s built-in camera to create an augmented reality (AR) experience. In what amounts to a digital scavenger hunt, players venture out in the real world to capture Pokémon as well as stop by so-called Pokéstops, predetermined landmarks where players can collect Pokéballs and other items, as well as gyms in which to wage battle.
The AR aspect of the game has also brought some controversy, as well as its fair share of odd incidents. Instances of players entering cemeteries, museums and even military installations have occurred. A teenage girl in Wyoming found a dead body while playing, while a man in Delaware rear-ended a police car while helping his wife play the game. Various robberies related to the game have also been reported.
Although the app itself is free to download and play, the game has in-app purchases. Apple is expected to reap about $3 billion in revenue from such in-app purchases over the next few years, as is Google, with both companies getting a cut in the transactions.