Pokémon GO is an augmented reality game tied in to Nintendo’s best-selling Pokémon game and film/television empire. Gameplay sees users encountering the eponymous creatures in real-world settings, utilising mobile devices’ GPS. Pokémon GO users can catch and train the Pokémon, then battle against other users (a relatively recent feature), mimicking the gameplay of the videogame series. It utilises the freemium mode that seems to be de rigueur for viral games…and go viral Pokémon GO certainly did!
Despite carrying the name of one of Nintendo’s marquee titles, Pokémon GO was developed by San Francisco-based game developer Niantic. Niantic specialises in augmented reality titles, and was originally founded as an internal startup within Google. The Pokémon Company, responsible for brand management, production, marketing, and licensing of the franchise served as a go-between between the two.
The game launched in July 2016, and became not just a smash hit game, but a global cultural phenomenon; in the summer of 2016, it seemed as if there was no getting away from Pokémon GO. There was even a Pokémon GO Frappuccino! How many games get a drink named after them at Starbucks? How many games inspire 200,000 Spotify playlists?
Accordingly, a spate of records were broken.
According to Guiness World Records, Pokémon GO revenue was the highest ever of any mobile game in its first month, at $207 million. Indeed, the revenue generated in that first month still puts it in fifth-place in terms of the highest one-month revenue for a free-to-play games. This was despite its launch being staggered, with its Japanese release not occurring until over two weeks following the general release. It was also the most downloaded, topped the most international charts, and grossed $100 million in a mere 20 days.
The success, however, was not unmarred by criticism and controversy. Pokémon GO was received negatively as game, while the concept received praise. It has also been attributed as the cause for a spate of – sometimes fatal – accidents. While the criticism of a game from the authorities can be the confirmation of its place in the canon, some of the negative press connected with Pokémon GO is a good deal more problematic (see Pokémon GO controversies below).
While this might have been counterbalanced to some extent by the game’s success, it seems this was unsustainable. Pokémon GO certainly seemed to be an all-conquering phenomenon in its first few months of existence, but the hype died down quickly. At its early peak, US Pokémon GO daily user numbers stood at 28.5 million; by December 2016 this number had crashed down to 5 million. While that number is not insignificant, it compares unfavourably against the early peak (close to 45 million worldwide).
Since the initial crash, however, Niantic has shown that it is possible to cultivate long-term value in a seeming fad, by listening carefully and catering to the needs of your community. Pokémon GO accordingly has brought in increasing amounts of revenue every year since 2017. The app, then, has two stories: one of initial mega hype, then one of steady, organic and, dare we say, sustainable growth?
Is Pokémon GO dead? Do people still play Pokémon GO? Does Pokémon GO make money for Niantic? For the answers to these questions and more, read on…
Table of Contents
|HQ||San Francisco, California|
|Key people||Tatsuo Nomura (Pokémon GO director), John Hanke (Niantic CEO)|
Key Pokémon GO User Statistics
|Cumulative Pokémon GO downloads|
|September 2016||500 million|
|February 2017||650 million|
|July 2017||750 million|
|May 2018||800 million|
|March 2019||1 billion|
|Pokémon GO 2019 event stats|
|Event details||Date||Attendees||Km walked||Pokémon caught|
|Pokémon GO Fest, Chicago, US||June 2019||60,000||290,000||15 million|
|Pokémon GO Fest Dortmund, Germany||July 2019||85,000||400,000||28 million|
|Pokémon GO Fest Yokohama, Japan||August 2019||150,000||/||24 million|
|Safari Zone Montreal, Canada||September 2019||39,000||166,000||7 million|
|Safari Zone New Taipei City, Taiwan||October 2019||327,000||4.5 million||50 million|
Key Pokémon GO Financial Statistics
|Pokémon GO user spending by year, USD millions|
Source: Sensor Tower
|Pokémon GO lifetime revenue|
|September 2016||$500 million|
|January 2017||$1 billion|
|September 2018||$2 billion|
|April 2019||$2.5 billion|
|October 2019||$3 billion|
|Pokémon GO weekly revenue 2020, USD millions|
|w/c 6 Jan||10|
|w/c 13 Jan||13.1|
|w/c 20 Jan||14.8|
|w/c 27 Jan||15.2|
|w/c 3 Feb||17|
|w/c 10 Feb||15.5|
|w/c 17 Feb||13.4|
|w/c 24 Feb||14.2|
|w/c 2 March||13.3|
|w/c 9 March||13.8|
|w/c 16 March||23|
Source: Sensor Tower via VentureBeat
|Pokémon GO monthly revenue|
Source: Sensor Tower (various blogs)
* SuperData stats
** SuperData gives 176 million
|February 2016||$150 million|
|July 2016||$3.65 billion|
|January 2019||$4 billion|
|Niantic funding rounds|
|Series A (initial funding)||October 2015||$20 million||Pokémon Group/Google/Nintendo|
|Series A||February 2016||$5 million||Alsop Louie|
|Series B||November 2017||$200 million||Spark|
|Series C||January 2019||$245 million||IVP|
Other Key Pokémon GO Statistics
- 55 million Pokémon GO downloads in 2019 (Sensor Tower)
- The US accounted for 19% of Pokémon GO downloads over 2019 (10 million, up from 16% in 2018), Brazil for 10% (5 million), and India for 6% (3 million) (Sensor Tower)
- 69% (38 million) of 2019 Pokémon GO downloads on Android, and the remaining 31% (17 million) iOS (Sensor Tower)
- US was top country for Pokémon GO revenue in 2019, contributing $335 million – or 38% of the total. Japan was second, with $286 million (32%), followed by Germany, with $54 million (6%) (Sensor Tower)
- In both 2017 and 2018, the US accounted for 33% of Pokémon GO revenue, while Japan’s share increased from 25% to 30% (Sensor Tower)
- Google Play accounted for 54% of 2019 Pokémon GO revenue ($482 million), with iOS App Store revenue coming to $412 million (46%) (Sensor Tower)
- Average daily Pokémon GO revenue stood at $4 million, from launch to April 2019 (Sensor Tower)
- Average daily Pokémon GO revenue at $2.5 million per day in 60 days after June 2018 update, up from $1.8 million in trailing 60 day period (Sensor Tower)
- Daily US iOS Pokémon GO revenue estimated at $438,729, as of June 2020 (Statista)
- Pokémon GO was fifth in terms of global mobile game revenue over 2019 (Sensor Tower)
- Pokémon GO was seventh in terms of global mobile game revenue in May 2020 (Sensor Tower)
- 2.7 million attendees of Niantic live events over 2019 (Niantic)
- Pokémon GO accounted for 45% of gameplay time among the top-20 Android games in its first three months of release (App Annie)
- During this early peak, US daily Pokémon GO users numbered 28.5 million; global players at 45 million (Comscore)
- US daily players fell to 5 million by December 2016 (Comscore)
- Reportedly, May 2018 was the best month since the game’s launch, with 147 million monthly active Pokémon GO users worldwide; this is well up on the 60 million reported in June (we don’t have any more recent stats than this) (Eurogamer)
- Pokémon GO 2019 revenue 4.4x greater than Dragon Quest Walk, the second-highest grossing location-based game (Sensor Tower)
- Pokémon GO claimed an 84% market share of downloads of location-based games, and a 92% share in terms of revenue in December 2018 (Deconstructor of Fun)
- 41% of Pokémon GO users are female (Inc.)
- Pokémon GO players had walked a cumulative 23 billion km as of March 2019 (GamesRadar)
- Pokémon GO players walked 8.7 billion km collectively in 2016 – enough to get to the end of the Solar System (Inverse)
- 400,000 Pokémon GO players took part in events in Chicago, Yokosuka, and Dortmund in the summer of 2018 (Niantic)
- Social features were launched in June 2018; by September of that year, 113 million connections had been made, with 2.2 billion gifts sent between friends (VentureBeat)
- In the first month of release, 290 UK crimes were connected with Pokémon GO (BBC)
- A study from Purdue University found that two deaths, 31 injuries, and $500,000 in vehicle damage could be blamed on the game in a single county in Indiana (Purdue University)
Pokémon GO User Statistics
Despite the drama of the early peak and equally dramatic drop off afterwards, there was still some steam in the game. Indeed, it was widely reported that May 2018 was actually the biggest month for the game since its launch. Is Pokémon GO dead? By no means…
Indeed, Pokémon GO stats from analytics firm Superdata showed that over the course of the month, there were 147 million active users (MAU, so not comparable with the DAU stats). Niantic reported later in summer that they had seen a 35% increase in Pokémon GO usage, starting from this May bump.
Indeed, while it may not be getting the numbers nor the consequent headlines as in its early heyday, Pokémon GO is still one of the most-used gaming apps in the US. It ranked fifth in terms of monthly active users in this category as of October 2018, registering close to 11 million MAU.
This is even more impressive when we consider the apps that it’s up against: Google Play Games, gaming media titan IGN, and – of course – the institution that is Candy Crush Saga. Finishing behind apps of this calibre is certainly no great shame.
Top mobile gaming apps in the US, October 2018
It might be noted that the 11 million Pokémon GO players is a distinctly low figure, measured against some of the 2018 MAU figures we see below. It is unclear whether these stats pertain to a specific OS (there is variance in many of the figures reported, we might do well to note that they are not official figures).
What about the time in-between the early peak and the new smaller peak – the seemingly quieter year of 2017? Apptopia Pokémon GO stats showed 60 million monthly active users in June 2017, 20% of which (so 12 million) were active daily.
We’ve seen Pokémon GO download numbers edge slowly upwards, after a distinct slowdown in the wake of the initial viral phase. We saw 500 million Pokémon GO downloads as early as September 2016, 650 million in Febraury 2017, and 750 million in July 2017. At a Pokémon Company press conference in May 2018, it was announced that Pokémon GO downloads totalled 800 million. And finally, a Pokémon Company Singapore press factsheet indicates that as of the end of March 2019, Pokémon GO downloads crossed the 1 billion threshold.
In 2019, Pokémon GO was downloaded a total of 55 million times. 19% of these came from the US, 10% from Brazil, and 6% from India. 69% of these downloads were on Android (excluding third-party downloads i.e. China), and 31% on iOS.
However slow and steady the download rate may seem, Pokémon GO is still very much dominating the AR category in this respect. Those asking, “Is Pokémon GO dead?” might do well to look at this category. We must take into account that the genre has been slow to grow in the wake of its most-famous title.
As of December 2018, the Pokémon GO market share stands at 84%, if we use downloads as our measure.
This was not the case throughout the year – we can see a huge spike for Jurassic World Alive in May and June, which alongside other titles pushed Pokémon GO‘s market share to around the 50% mark. In July, The Walking Dead: Our World spiked, though by this point interest in Jurassic World had tailed off, thus leaving Pokémon GO untroubled.
As we’re looking at market share here, it’s unclear what the implications are for the total size of the market; whether these titles are eating into each other’s market share, or simply greatly increasing the total number of downloads of AR/location-based games. It would also be interesting to see the effect on the overall games market.
Whatever the answer to this, what we can see clearly is that Pokémon GO always seems to reclaim the market share lost to other titles in the same category; testament to its longevity (though we’re sure that Niantic would be able to tell you something about flashes in the pan…).
It’s also worth noting, that for obvious reasons, the summer months seem to be best opportunity to claim a share of the market for newer titles.
Pokémon GO downloads versus other location-based games
Source: Deconstructor of Fun
Notwithstanding the number of downloads, we are seeing growth in the MAU. Niantic can take credit for this, having not rested on its laurels or accepted defeat by any means. It has been rolling out various upgrades over time. These include weather-based gameplay, missions, and social features (including a much-coveted versus mode), as well as simply adding more Pokémon to catch. While the initial hype and the concomitant headline stats may be a distant memory, the game has clearly been slowly and surely building up a more committed player base through incremental improvements. While we may not be seeing as many Pokémon GO downloads, and therefore new players, the longevity of these longer-term players is serving to bolster MAU numbers.
Pokémon GO early peak
There has been nothing – before or since – says Recode, like the Pokémon GO stats we saw in those first few weeks. The weekly peak downloads of 90.5 million is more than double Nintendo’s Super Mario Run and not too far off being six times the level of Facebook around this time.
Pokémon GO early download peak versus other apps
As early as late August 2016, commentators were already asking if we had seen the high watermark of Pokémon GO stats.
We might note the peak of close to 45 million daily active users worldwide, reached around two weeks after launch. Following this, we see a sharp tail off, followed by a steadier decline. If we use that early peak as our yardstick, we might call this a terminal decline (as we know, though, it is not quite simple).
Those taking a longer-term view might be slightly more realistic in their expectations: there does tend to be a degree of churn with free-to-play games, as noted in a piece in the BBC. The outlying factor here was the huge explosion in popularity.
Despite that, the loss of 10 million players in the space of a month is, no doubt, a painful thing to experience. Not just for Niantic; Nintendo’s share price fell by 3% as a consequence, despite it not actually being a Nintendo product – something which at one point Nintendo was forced to remind investors. Again, it’s worth noting context: Nintendo’s share price was volatile at the time, and had shot up as a consequence of Pokémon GO’s popularity in the first place.
Daily active Pokémon GO users, first weeks
It only got worse from there on in. The trend already apparent in August held, and Pokémon GO usage continued to tail off. In the US peak daily player levels had reached 28.5 million in mid-July. By the end of December this had crashed down to 5 million.
Again, in the interests of perspective, 5 million daily players still makes it one of the world’s biggest in its category (see above). And once again, we can look at this as a normalisation after a clearly unsustainable early peak.
Daily Pokémon GO players, July – December 2016
Source: comScore (via Recode)
In terms of Pokémon GO downloads, over 500 million were reported by Niantic as of September 2016. Accordingly, it topped the download charts for the year, on both iOS and Android.
Pokémon GO user demographics
According to comScore Pokémon GO stats relating to early 2017, 60% of the audience were aged 18-34 (it calls them Millennials, but we might argue a fair swathe of these would be Gen Z also if we go by the 1981-1996 measure).
Apptopia reported in mid-2017 that 57.4% of Pokémon GO players were male – which for a game is impressively close to parity. It found a lower percentage of Millennial Pokémon GO users (in this case using 19-34 as its measure), reporting 38%. A further 32% were under 18, giving the game a fascinating split in terms of the age groups of Pokémon GO users.
A small US survey conducted by Inc. and published in August 2016 found a similar gender split; 59% male and 41% female. This study set the average age of Pokémon GO players at 29, and found household income averaging $52,430
Pokémon GO demographics August 2016
Apptopia Pokémon GO stats show that the greatest share of downloads by volume (all time) come from the US (as of September 2018), which accounts for 21% of Pokémon GO downloads. Brazil and India follow, with 9.3% and 8.6% shares respectively.
The top-five countries (the aforementioned plus Mexico and Indonesia) account for very close to 50% of total Pokémon GO downloads.
Pokémon GO downloads by country
2018 figures show the US accounting for 16% of Pokémon GO downloads – again putting into context the low number of US players we see above. The below graphic measures Pokémon GO against other popular AR/location-based titles.
It’s interesting to note that Pokémon GO has the lowest percentage of US downloads out of the top five AR titles. These are listed in descending order of market share (left to right). Interestingly, we see that the more popular the title, the greater the proportion of international users.
Pokémon GO US vs. rest of world downloads, 2018
Source: Deconstructor of Fun
Pokémon GO Usage Statistics
At CES 2017 (January of that year), Niantic revealed that Pokémon GO players had collectively walked 8.7 billion km between them – the length of the Solar System. If nothing else, the game can take some credit for getting people moving, then. By March 2019, this had increased to 23 billion.
Research from Stanford and Microsoft looking at US Pokémon GO usage echoes this. The paper found that Pokémon GO players increased their baseline daily step count by 25% (1473 steps) on average. In total, the research – which covered the height of the app’s popularity – concluded that US physical activity profited by 144 billion by virtue of Pokémon GO.
It’s not just kids either, as confirmed by a study from the University of Tokyo, who found that over-40s who play the game walk more than non-players. This applies in all seasons, and across the various age groups surveyed. Indeed, it was most pronounced in the 55-64 year-old age bracket (whether it’s Pokémon GO that can be credited for this activity, or already existing activity that facilitates Pokémon GO playing is not so clear).
In its biggest quarter – i.e. the legendary third quarter of 2016 – Pokémon GO usage reportedly accounted for 45% of gameplay time among the top-20 Android games – meaning the remaining 19 top-20 games had to share a relatively measly 55% between them.
It should be noted, however, that this is not a zero-sum game. Pokémon GO usage was not eating into time that would otherwise be spent playing other games or other apps. Instead it was converting non-mobile time into mobile time, making people spend more time using their mobile devices – a fascinating insight into what might be possible, with the right combination of factors, for an app.
Time spent playing Pokémon GO vs other top-20 games
Source: App Annie
Was all the game time a cash cow for mobile network data providers? Actually, it seems no. An experiment from Business Insider found that the game used up an eminently reasonable 3MB per hour (based on an eight-hour period, with a combination of active and background use) – relying as it does on GPS and a phone’s camera. Pokémon GO players might, however, find that these two things in combination will drain a phone’s battery pretty rapidly.
A small US survey carried out by Inc. in August 2016 produced some interesting findings related to Pokémon GO usage of the game during its early peak.
In terms of game time, it seemed the majority of Pokémon GO players fell into the one to three hours per day category (with 14% falling into the potentially problematic three hours or more bracket). A small majority of gamers played alone, and 68% claimed to most often play while running errands or hanging out – i.e. when doing something else, be it alone or with friends.
Pokémon GO usage statistics
Pokémon GO events
It has been posited that the higher level of engagement seen among Pokémon GO players over 2018 comes from the higher volume of Pokémon GO events held through the year. One Reddit commentator notes that over 2018, we saw 31 Pokémon GO events, 12 community days, and four raid days (different types of one-off in-game events). This compares with 10 Pokémon GO events in 2017. Clearly these events motivate and engage the gameplay community, combining the AR elements of the game with a narrative arc or social element to foster engagement.
Again, we might see a parallel with Fortnite here, where various seasons, tie-ins, and special tournaments help keep gameplay varied.
Niantic announced that 400,000 players joined three global Pokémon GO events, taking place in Dortmund, Chicago, and Yokosuka in 2018. This increased to 2.7 million people in 2019 (though this includes other Niantic events). Pokémon GO events over summer included Pokémon GO Fest events in Chicago and Dortmund (60,000 and 85,000 attendees respectively), and Safari Zones in Yokohama and Taipei (150,000 and 327,000 attendees respectively). Those with
2020 will see these events being spread out, due to restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Other Pokémon GO events are the results of partnerships between Niantic and various cultural/social organisations.
The Nianatic blog gives the example an event held in San José saw 7.3 miles of road temporarily closed down and converted into an ‘urban park’ into which Pokémon GO users were invited to catch Pokémon. 130,000 people turned up to do so. This was the product of a partnership between Niantic VivaCalleSJ.
Niantic has also partnered with Big Heritage in the UK to help users learn about local history, with curated Pokéstops combined with historical information. This included placing 120 Pokémon GO locations in the historic city of Chester in the summer of 2017. 16,000 Pokémon GO users turned up over the two days, making it the largest digital heritage event in the world.
Pokémon GO social features
Social features were added to Pokémon GO in June 2018. By September of that year, 113 million friend connections were made, and 2.2 billion gifts were sent to friends.
In February 2019, Niantic announced a feature in development called ‘GO Snapshot’, which will allow players to take photos with Pokémon they have captured. This will build on the AR+ add on offered by ARCore, which already offers Pokémon GO players the ability to take photos within the game (as well as other features, such as distance scaling and Pokémon noticing players’ movements).
This is another example of the game catering to the demands of players, with photo taking proving extremely popular.
Not quite a social feature, but an interactive one nonetheless; in September 2018, Niantic announced a nomination program which will allow Pokémon GO users to nominate locations for ‘Pokéstops’ – sites at which Pokémon can be encountered. The beta version of this program was announced for South Korea and Brazil – both of which see a high player base but a relatively low number of stops.
Niantic explained the slow rollout by saying that there was still a considerable human element involved – hopefully a sign of learned lessons as to appropriate Pokémon GO locations (see below for examples of decidedly inappropriate ones).
Pokémon GO controversies
The problem of Pokémon appearing on private property was a significant issue in the game’s early days. In the US, Niantic were forced to come to a settlement with homeowners who felt harassed by the number of Pokémon GO players looking to gain access to their property. This was not the most problematic Pokémon location, however. They also appeared in Washington’s Holocaust Museum and a cemetery in Alabama, while the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum was forced to issue a notice telling people not to play the game at the former concentration camp.
The danger extended beyond disrespectful behaviour, unfortunately. A teenager was reportedly playing the game when he was shot after breaking into a house to catch a Pokémon in Guatemala – whether we want to hold the game responsible for this is another question, though it very much highlights the dangers of straying into dangerous places while playing the game.
A study from Purdue University conducted a study which threw up some troubling Pokémon GO stats, attributing a number of local accidents to the game. In one county in Indiana alone, researchers calculated the game may have been responsible for two deaths, 31 injuries, and nearly $500,000 in damage to vehicles. Extrapolated to the whole US, the death toll may be as high as 256, with a further 29,000 injured (though this would be a pretty harsh conclusion).
It’s not just the US; in the UK the police logged hundreds of Pokémon GO incidents in the first month of its release. 290 robberies, thefts, assaults were logged in England and Wales during this period. One particularly beleaguered local police force reported 39 Pokémon GO incidents. Another reported a 30-person brawl, while another found a man had invited children to come to his house, claiming he had a lot of Pokémon there.
In Japan a man was given 14-month sentence after hitting and killing a pensioner while playing Pokémon GO at the wheel – a sentence that was criticised for being overly lenient. Another fatal accident involved a nine-year old boy.
Pokémon GO was the first major augmented reality smash hit; hopefully some of the harsh lessons learned in tragic circumstances will be taken into consideration by other makers of AR games.
To finish on a lighter-hearted note, in August 2016 a Norwegian politician – the leader of the Liberal Party no less – was caught playing Pokémon GO during a parliamentary hearing. No doubt catnip to her political opponents. Though on the subject of catnip, we might also note the interjection of animal welfare activists PETA, who called the process of trapping Pokémon animal cruelty. It suggested that instead of trying to “catch ‘em all”, as the game’s tagline goes, users should try to “free ‘em all”…
Pokémon GO Revenue Statistics
Revenue figures provide further evidence that the answer to “Is Pokémon GO dead?” is a firm no.
Over 2019, Pokémon GO brought in $894 million in revenue. This was the highest grossing year for the app, and represents the first time an location-based game has managed to log more revenue than in its launch year (albeit it only had half of 2016).
Pokémon GO revenue by year
Source: Sensor Tower
At the end of 2018, Forbes expressed shock that Pokémon GO had generated as much revenue as it had, despite having fallen off the radar of popular culture. The explanation, contained in the article, is that Niantic focused on improving the game and listening to its community. By 2020, to still be shocked by this only shows that you haven’t been paying attention.
If we take a look at monthly revenue figures taking us up to July 2019, we can see the effect of this beginning to take place, after the initial drastic slowdown. As with July, August 2019 was to represent a standout month, with a revenue of $110 at a higher level than any since 2016.
This might even be a modest estimation, with SuperData proposing a figure of $176 million of Pokémon GO revenue in August 2019.
Pokémon GO revenue by month, to July 2019
Source: Sensor Tower
Interestingly, even the coronavirus pandemic hasn’t slowed the flow of Pokémon GO revenue, with mid-March 2020 seeing another post-2016 high, this time for weekly revenue of $23 million.
Weekly Pokémon GO revenue, 2020
Source: Sensor Tower via VentureBeat
To look at it another way, equalising the ups and downs, from launch to April 2019, Pokémon GO brought in an average of $4 million every day. Naturally, this level has varied – we know that after a June 2018 update, daily revenue increased to $2.5 million, after having stood at $1.8 million per day in the period coming up to the update.
In terms of daily US iOS revenue, Pokémon GO currently ranks seventh, bringing in around $440,000 per day. That’s some way off the top earners, and there is a significant gap between the top and bottom earners in the top-10. Nevertheless, there are only six games currently bringing in more daily revenue than Pokémon GO.
Top mobile games, daily US iOS revenue, June 2020
This continued revenue stream helped Pokémon GO cross the $2 billion lifetime revenue mark in September 2018. To reach this point from launch took 811 days. By April 2019 it had reached $2.5 billion, and six months later, $3 billion.
It was one of the quickest ever games to reach $2 billion. Only Clash of Clans and Game of War managed to reach this point in shorter time. Clash Royale and Candy Crush, on the other hand, were slower to $2 billion in revenue, despite both bringing in considerably more revenue now.
Pokémon GO days to $2 billion in revenue
Based on Sensor Tower data, Variety reports that, cumulatively, Pokémon mobile titles had brought in $2.5 billion as of March 2019. Of this, Pokémon GO revenue accounts for $2.45 billion. Monthly revenue for these titles at this time came to $58 million. This represents a 30% increase on the previous year. 99% of this revenue is estimated to come from Pokémon GO.
Once again, we see a picture of steady growth, thrown into obscurity by that electric first month.
This is understandable. The first month of Pokémon GO has gone down (and remains) in history as one of the highest-ever grossing single months for a free-to-play game, as well as the highest first month. Pokémon GO Revenue for this legendary month came in at a total of $206.5 million.
In its early days, Pokémon GO revenue reached $600 million in revenue within 90 days – faster than any other game had before it (even Candy Crush Saga, which took more than 200 days to reach the same point).
It went on to reach $800 million in revenue in 110 days, again faster than any other game before it. These revenue figures take into account both iOS and Android revenue stats.
Pokémon GO time to $800 million revenue
Source: App Annie (via VentureBeat)
The US, as tends to be case with US-developed apps, is the leading source of revenue for Pokémon GO, accounting for 38% of total revenue. Japan is not too far behind, at 32%, while Germany comes in a more distant third place, contributing 6% of total revenue (perhaps the locations of the three global events mentioned above makes more sense in this context…). This is based on Sensor Tower data.
As with downloads, Google Play dominates, though the lead is less pronounced. In all, 54% of Pokémon GO 2019 revenue was on Android (excluding China and other third-party Android revenue), and 46% through iOS.
On the other hand, Apptopia found (in September 2018) that Japan accounts for a tiny bit more than a third of revenue, followed by the US on 27.5%. Germany occupies the familiar third spot on 4.4%.
Apptopia note high ARPU registered by Japan here, with the game not even registering in the top-five by downloads (see above). It might be worth noting, however, that downloads don’t necessarily equate to active players. It can be assumed that a not insignificant proportion of US Pokémon GO downloads came in the first few months (remember, this is when 50% of Pokémon GO downloads occurred, counting from launch to September 2018).
Pokémon GO revenue by country
As mentioned in the above Pokémon GO stats, the title dominates the location-based category of games in terms of downloads. This also seems to be case in terms of non-ad revenue, for which it claimed a kingly 92% of revenue in December 2018. In 2019, Pokémon GO continued to dominate, bringing in 4.4x more revenue than second place Dragon Quest Walk.
As with downloads we see an incursion into Pokémon GO‘s market share in the summer months. Interestingly, this is nowhere near as pronounced for revenue as it is for downloads. Pokémon GO revenue stays well above 80% through the year.
Pokémon GO revenue vs. Other location-based titles
Source: Deconstructor of Fun
Deconstructor of Fun notes that the real threat to Pokémon GO in terms of market share and revenue alike will, somewhat ironically, some from Niantic’s own Harry Potter: Wizards Unite – with which Pokémon GO will share no small proportion of its fanbase…
How does Pokémon GO make money?
Pokémon GO revenue is generated in a way somewhat reminiscent of perhaps the best-known free-to-play game, Fortnite, in that in-app purchases, with a few exceptions (raid passes to take part in certain events, for example), do not give gamers any sort of huge advantage – and are certainly not essential for the gameplay experience. This, notes Forbes, is in contrast to titles like Candy Crush or Clash of Clans, which make players pay for extra lives or to bypass lengthy waiting times.
This goes someway to explaining the disparity in revenue we see between these titles, but also makes Pokémon GO revenue levels all the more impressive – and indicative of the deeper loyalty which we posit is evidenced by recent performance.
It also stands as further evidence, if we needed it, of the potential of the microtransaction to power a company’s revenue.
Pokémon GO ads
These microtransactions are not, however, the only way that Niantic has monetised their valuable property. Not too long after the game was launched, it announced that it would be allowing businesses to sponsor and host Pokémon GO locations. The idea would be that punters then would come for the Pokémon, but then stay for the service. Starbucks and Sprint Stores are among the more high-profile clients.
It was reported in March 2017 that 500 million people had visited sponsored Pokéstops – though some have questioned the appropriateness of the term ‘visit’ as it doesn’t necessarily imply any further engagement for the business. Niantic charges per visit – Forbes calculates this comes to around $0.15-50 per visit. This could potentially be worth $75-250 million in extra revenue to Niantic.
As of March 2017, there were 35,000 sponsored Pokémon GO locations. 7,800 belonged to Starbucks, which also offered a themed Pokémon GO Frappuccino, and 10,500 to Sprint Stores. It is unclear how many of these continue to have deals with Niantic in the aftermath of dipping user numbers. Certainly, there have been some reports of businesses discontinuing these ads. For example, in October 2018, it was announced that Pokémon GO locations at several of the Unibail-Rodamco chain of malls in the Netherlands would no longer host sponsored Pokémon GO locations. It is unclear whether this was because of unsatisfactory returns, that the gamers were disturbing shoppers, or another reason altogether.
It should be noted that a year before, a ‘Safari Zone’ event sold out in less than a minute at one of the Pokémon GO locations which would no longer host sponsored Pokéstops (Amstelveen), so there is a market for the game in the location. Or at least was – in the relatively disappointing year of 2017.
During the height of Pokémon GO usage, the game registered some strong stats related to getting people to visit local businesses. Inc. reported in August 2016 that 82% of Pokémon GO players visited a business while playing the game; 51% for the first time. On average these players spent $11.30 at the businesses they visited while playing.
68% said they had visited because of a lure located there (these can be purchased in-app for $0.99, and last for 30 minutes); 33% said they were went twice a week, and 18% went of a daily basis because of these lures. 48% who visited a business where a lure was located said they stayed at the business for 30 minutes or more.
While we must take this with the necessary qualification that this was a unique time, it’s worth noting the power of a game/app to give this injection of life to local businesses. Respondents to this survey claimed to be visiting local businesses more than national chains.
Unsurprisingly, restaurants and cafes were the business categories that profited the most.
Types of businesses visited by Pokémon GO players, August 2016
Specific stats seem to be hard to come by, but as of late 2017, Pokémon GO also seemed to be offerings ads through push notifications.
In December 2018, it was reported that Niantic were seeking a new round of investment, worth $200 million. This would give it a valuation of $3.9 billion, and take total funding up to $425 million.
The Series C investment round, taking place in January 2019 was led by later-stage venture capital firm IVP, along with Samsung and aXiomatic Gaming (an e-sports and video game ‘enabler’), among others. The total value of the investment came to $245 million, giving Niantic the expected valuation of close to $4 billion.
Prior to this, Niantic’s latest valuation stood at $3 billion.
TechCrunch reports that Niantic will build upon Pokémon GO to build an AR cloud ecosystem, potentially leveraging the rich stream of big data that the game (and the forthcoming Harry Potter: Wizards Unite) provides. This, the piece speculates, could lead to long-term potential that not even the company itself yet understands.
Location-based advertising, for one thing, is a potentially massive future industry, through which Niantic could stand to make a killing – with the crucial advantage that it is tied to an established game (games being increasingly influential in the app space) based around a well-loved brand.
With Google opening up its Maps API to game developers in March 2018, Niantic would do well to understand this relatively soon – as this most certainly has the potential to open the floodgates in terms of rival AR titles in the medium term.
We may never see a launch like Pokémon GO’s again. The incredible traction gained in that first few weeks will last long in the memory as one the greatest splashes in the history not just of mobile gaming, but apps as a whole. What 90s gamers peering into the monochrome screens of their Gameboys, or playground Pokémon card game traders would have anticipated the Pokémon GO Frappuccino?
It’s hard to take too many lessons from this, however; the magic certainly would be hard to replicate for any other developers. The combination of one of the world’s most-loved gaming brands, with the novelty of new technology, and ideal weather conditions – a particularly clement summer, well-suited to outdoor activity – is an advantageous mix precious few will be lucky enough to ever enjoy.
These combined with the viral factor, facilitated by name recognition, were a perfect storm for Niantic. It seems an unusual thing to say for such a massive launch, but it seems that in many ways Pokémon GO simply walked to huge success.
Indeed, perhaps there was a slightly casual element to Niantic’s approach. While it would be hard to replicate the success, we can certainly learn from some of the mistakes made. For one thing, we might look at the limited, buggy, and unsatisfying gameplay. While the novelty factor may have been enough to encourage downloads, without a decent game in there, we can hardly expect the sort of replay value that fosters loyalty.
While Pokémon GO might have got people using their mobile devices outside of normal periods, it didn’t seem to boast that the same addictive thrill that kept non-gamers coming back to titles like Candy Crush. We might also look to the lack of foresight that saw the game wrapped in a series of controversies which might have been avoided with some due diligence and some better awareness of the dangers which come with an AR title – particularly one so very ubiquitous.
Perhaps Niantic simply did not anticipate how huge a phenomenon it would be – simply assuming a tidy buck from the core of hardcore fans, to attract whom little more is needed than the appropriate licensing and artwork.
Players naturally flocked away after the novelty had gone and we saw one of the most successful openings followed almost immediately with one of the most drastic crashes we’re ever likely to see. Then starts another story.
Certainly, the vast majority of the viral Pokémon GO users upped sticks and consigned the game to history along with other hazy memories of that long, hot summer. But there remained a core user-base, long-time lovers of the brand, taken by the essential concept of gameplay – of being able to play a Pokémon title in the real world.
Slowly, but surely, Niantic improved the game for this core player base, adding in the features that they wanted, and ironing out the bugs. The introduction of social features, versus modes, and one-off real-world events has slowly seen engagement and user numbers – and revenue – climb once more. Pokémon GO is, despite everything, one of the most popular mobile games out there still.
Certainly, some figures will be rightfully kicking themselves and wondering what might have been if they could hold on those numbers, get players addicted, coming back again and again until the game became an essential part of the digital landscape. On the other hand, perhaps it was simply a freak phenomenon – the right thing at the right time, but never with any prospect of long-term usership
Whether it was a disaster or an outlier, the other narrative is one that is more heartening – a story of building up a committed userbase, through incremental improvements in gameplay. Crucially, we’re also seeing the game generate more revenue than at any other time, despite the revenue model being what can only be described as slight.
Perhaps we’ll never be able to talk about Pokémon GO without reference to the summer of 2016. This, however, is to overlook the game’s resurgence and seemingly rude health.
Indeed, this might just be the beginning of something huge. AR is still a nascent field – the stuff of science fiction a few years ago. As one of the most prominent early pioneers, Niantic potentially are sitting on a goldmine of rich data. That’s not to mention the possibilities of location-based advertising.
Who said there were no second chances?