19 Mar 2018 19:58 IST

Author Analysis

Pokémon Go has the potential to catch ’em all!

Multiple game versions, enhanced AR and IT, and new ways to stop cheating can revive interest

Pokémon Go is a location-based game that joined the digital and the physical world on smartphones, and thus launched a new way of gaming. Some reasons for its spectacular launch include:

Brand affiliation: Big draw for nostalgic fans who had played Pokémon video games during their childhood in the 1990s.

Augmented Reality (AR) was rooted in the user experience.

Game is simple and easy to get started; No costly equipment was needed, just a smartphone with a camera and GPS.

Achievement: The high from the accomplishment of a goal (catching a Pikachu) prompted people to play more and more.

Novelty: Getting outdoors, which involved exercise.

Reward model: Flexible rewards were one of the most influential tools to ‘hook’ users to playing the game. The rewards in Pokémon Go were not guaranteed; the ‘fear of missing out’ was attached to the delightful thought of catching a Pokémon, and this motivated the player to play again and again.

Influencer Marketing: Pokémon Go used influencer marketing to get the attention of gamers. Influencer marketing focuses on using key leaders to drive a brand’s message to the larger market. Rather than marketing the product directly to a large group of consumers, the company inspired, hired, or paid influencers to spread the message about the product. Social-media marketing and content marketing was used to good effect.

Niantic was able to monetise the game well through sales of PokéCoins, Lure Modules, and so on. The game was also able to demonstrate its value to businesses that wanted to attract more footfalls to their sales points. These businesses, in turn, promoted Pokémon Go as they publicised their association with the game.

However, Pokémon Go was not able to retain a large part of its user base in the following months and years due to:

Players reaching boredom: For some, the Gym battles and catching Pokémon became easy over a period of time

Absence of a strong storyline and negligible player-to-player interactions

It runs only on GPS

Geographic limitations

Cannot be played sitting at one place; For many it was not possible to play the game in winter

Rapid draining of mobile battery

Sub-par involvement of user with the AR

Risk of accidents if played without being aware of one’s surroundings

Bad maintenance of servers; hiccups and bugs in the software

Failing to listen to customers

Inadequacy in tackling the cheaters

How to arrest the decline

To arrest the decline, Niantic will have to focus on product development, market segmentation and targeting, digital marketing and strengthening its IT infrastructure. Niantic will have to engage in social media monitoring and listen to understand the key concerns of its users. This will also help it segment the market.

Pokémon Go is a novel game and that is why it still has a sizeable and loyal user base. Regularly bringing in new augmented features will keep this segment engaged. For instance, building an engaging storyline, introducing different types of single/ multiplayer challenges, conducting online/ offline social events, and so on.

Other versions of the game can be developed for the segment that likes to engage in the game but has limitations in travelling. It might be a good idea to link the rewards of the game to steps taken and physical activity, rather than change in location. For instance, the more a person plays, the more the chance of finding a rare Pokémon increases.

A third version can be for the segment that wants to play the game just like any other game — sitting down. Agreed, that this may be contrary to why this game was developed in the first place, which was a key part of its novelty. But it sees to it that the game, as a franchise, gains critical mass through engaging users who may have a high affiliation to the Pokémon brand. It also gives the company a chance to lure this segment to try out other game versions from time to time with some enticing offers.

A highly visible digital marketing campaign can help attract and engage the new users.

The IT infrastructure has to be strengthened to ensure that there are few server and software related issues that frustrate the user.

Two-pronged approach to discourage cheaters

Cheaters may not be the biggest problem for Pokémon at this time but it is definitely something that the company is losing sleep over. When a player cheats in a game, his pay-offs increase, but this is at the cost of the other player, whose pay-offs decrease. If all the players start cheating, than the pay-offs level off but at the additional cost of using a cheat app.

In reality, not everyone will cheat and, if they perceive that their chances are being hampered because others are cheating, they may just stop playing the game. It is very important for Niantic to discourage the cheaters, but it calls for a lot of work for the IT team and also a nuanced approach towards cheaters.

Niantic will have to keep track of players – use big data analytics to identify cheaters and the third-party cheat apps they are using. This is not an easy task and also involves considerable and sustained investments. Moreover, as soon as a cheat app is identified and taken down, it springs up in another avatar. So, keeping track of the third-party cheat apps is a continuous exercise.

Dealing with the cheaters calls for a nuanced approach as the company has to ensure that it is not erroneously penalising a very good player. Moreover, these players may be hard core fans who are so focussed on winning that they are ready to go to any extent to win the game. So, instead of a permanent ban, it may be better to let them know that the company is on to them but that there are consequences. So, devise ways to make them lose, with the alert message giving the reason. The next level may be to downgrade their levels, and socially shame them.

20-year franchise

In this age of limited attention spans, 20 years for a game is like centuries. It may be possible for Niantic to develop Pokémon Go into a 20-year franchise through effective product lifecycle management. But for this to happen, Niantic will have to go beyond the game.

In addition to implementing all the earlier suggestions, Niantic will have to continuously work toward introducing engaging features to maintain the game’s novelty. AR (and related technologies) are in a nascent stage of development, and the possibilities are immense. Not only will Niantic have to strengthen the game infrastructure but also create an ecosystem around it.

Niantic will have to build and strengthen online as well as offline communities for Pokémon Go with the aim of making them self-sustaining in the long run. Considering the nature of the game, it can tie up with theme parks to have a section where fans can engage with Pokémon Go and its characters.

Other options are having a Pokémon Go theme park, along the lines of Legoland. A series of Pokémon Go movies, with engaging storylines and opportunities to replicate the same in game play using AR and Virtual Reality are another option to consider. Continuous promotion of the Pokémon franchise itself will provide a great impetus by catching players young.