You Get A Bonus! You Get A Bonus! Pokemon Go’s Bid To Reclaim Lost Players

Pokemon GO
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New Daily Bonuses announced by Niantic

The unfortunate truth of being the most popular app of all time is that you only have one way to go from your peak. Spoiler alert: it’s not up.

In an interview with Wired, an executive from App Annie, a usage-tracking service, noted that Pokemon Go has exceeded the general standard for a successful app. It has excellent 30-day retention of regular users. It has retained well over the 30 percent of users that is the signpost for stardom. Most importantly for the powers that be, PoGo will likely end the year having earned over $700 million dollars in sponsorships and microtransactions.

However, that doesn’t necessarily add up to a happy playerbase. At the end of this summer, nearly every financial journalism institution was crowing about Niantic’s loss of some 15 million users in a month. For any other app, this would mean an absurdly fiery, screaming death. For Pokemon Go, it means a seemingly endless stream of complaints on the various online communities. Many ended with an angry, disappointed, or reluctant but inevitable goodbye to the game.

Niantic’s response?

More or less silence. Niantic has done little to address these complaints. For months, their twitter feed was deaf to the outcries from fans, while they continued to strip away freedoms and features and gave back little in return. “Minor text fixes” became a common meme after the release of patch notes. Third-party, grassroots apps were developed, scrubbing PoGo’s API to facilitate actual hunting of desired Pokemon–something notably missing from the builds since the initial release. In turn, Niantic changed the securities on their API to make them obsolete. The indie developers of those apps, like Pokevision, sent open letters to Niantic, defending their effort as fans and gamers, and begging for a response. Still nothing.

Well, not nothing, I suppose. In late October, the Niantic PoGo blog revealed their schedule for the Halloween event. Over the course of the Halloween week, players would receive double the return on Pokemon candies–the currency for evolving and strengthening your Pokemon. To be honest, I didn’t think much of the offer. In many cases this was the difference between one and two candies. However, it did mark a rare departure from Niantic’s apparent policy of Do Not Interact With Player Base.

Pokemon Go Halloween event

And it worked, it seems.

Reddit buzzed with players doing all-nighters to take advantage of the candy payout scheme. Trainers seemed to cherish that they had at last been given something (not that I don’t appreciate having a Pikachu on my avatar’s shoulder). That week, TechCrunch reported that the Halloween event more than doubled Niantic’s weekly microtransaction profit margins. Also, I don’t want to get too conspiratorial, but the end of the event also coincided with the final dismantling of FastPokeMap, another third-party Poke-tracking website, prompting yet more players to flip Niantic the bird and uninstall. Just sayin’.

The day after the event ended, Niantic announced their next interactive event in the form of Daily Bonuses. In classic microtransaction-driven app style, daily Pokemon catches and Pokestop spins will net you extra rewards. A week of continual use will result in an even larger bonus. Oh, and how will Niantic be celebrating this feature?

Everyone gets a bonus!

To usher in the new feature, there are five days of additional bonuses! They come in the form of extra items dropped at Pokestops and generally more Pokemon spawns around you. The timing of this event coincides suspiciously well with the addition of 100 new Pokemon to the code in the most recent patch. Fair play, though, Niantic. I jogged around in my thermals today and caught all the Pokemon in Epping Forest. All of ’em. Where before there was just an endless expanse of suburban East London nothing, now there are Pidgeys and Shellders, and right as I returned home I caught my first Mr. Mime–a notoriously rare find.

I was considering posting my excitement to /r/PokemonGoLondon, but then I had that unnerving feeling that I was being manipulated. And not terribly cleverly, either. The kind of manipulation my dog used to resort to at the dining table. It was followed rapidly by:

Why shouldn’t there be this many Pokemon around outside of event times? With the closure of FastPokeMap, how can I actually hunt Pokemon to fill out my ‘dex? Where’s the game in this game anymore?

These are my complaints alone, though they may be shared by others. I haven’t forgotten that this is a free game, and it doesn’t owe me anything, per se. Also, plenty of players don’t want to be able to “hunt”, and are happy wandering around.

But, for me…

That doesn’t mean I’m not sad about the state of the game, and a few extra potion drops aren’t going to change that. In the month or so after the launch, all of London was demonstrably, obviously different because of this game. I got tons of exercise. I talked to lots of people and made awesome nerdy friends. Pale young Englishmen talked to me, even if they didn’t want to (I made them). I made them laugh. For a month, though, that was OK. It was also OK to swear at a total stranger because of their Pokemon Trainer team affiliation. I quit smoking so I could start jogging and playing.

I believe that augmented reality will become a relevant new technology before virtual reality loses its clunkiness. Pokemon Go was to lead that charge. There are lots of narratives and theories as to how and why Niantic dropped the ball so spectacularly, but I fear that the ball is dropped irreversibly. Now trainers in parks are the rare exception, and I have verbally accosted more than one stranger accidentally, confusing them for a fellow player. I don’t doubt that the daily bonuses will ultimately boost Niantic’s revenue stream, but I kind of hope it doesn’t. The sad truth is that the player base complains, but no one hears it unless the company’s bottom line takes a hit. It’s all too bad really, my lungs really like being a non-smoker.

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