Users around the world have a new reason to be glued to their smartphones—Pokémon Go. The location-based augmented reality game developed by Niantic, Inc. is seemingly everywhere. Users are playing in hospital rooms, getting into car accidents while playing, and hunting Charmander at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.
So how does it work? The game uses the smartphone’s GPS and camera to allow the user to find Pokémon characters, layering the gameplay over their actual surroundings. Users find and capture Pokémon characters as they move around their location. As the user travels around from location to location—from the office, to home, to the gym, and around town—different Pokémon characters appear. The goal of the game is to capture all the Pokémon and become a Pokémon master.
It’s not just popular, it’s a movement
It seems simple enough, but how did a simple game become the cultural movement that it is and reach an estimated 9.5M daily active users?
First of all, it’s free to download and play. We’ve seen before that freemium games perform better than pay-to-play games, with only Minecraft cracking the top 10 games as a paid app. Oftentimes, the majority of the top 10 games in emerging markets are freemium games. The top 10 grossing Android game apps in the United States are freemium.
Secondly, it builds on an extremely popular franchise that has been in existence since the mid-90’s. It’s the second best-selling video game franchise of all time, just behind Mario and its related games. Nostalgia is a major motivation for many of the users playing the game, those who spent their early tween or teen years playing Pokemon video games, trading the playing cards, watching the television shows, and flocking the theater to see the movie.
Finally, the game is extremely simple with a low barrier to entry. Matthew Lynley points out many of the in-person viral mechanics of the game in his TechCrunch article, “A smartphone owner sees someone playing the game, becomes curious, downloads the game and plays it — both interacting with other players and inspiring curiosity in other potential new players.” We already know that referrals from friends is the number one reason users download an app, so it’s not a huge surprise that the app has become popular despite little to no official advertising, other than a $5M Super Bowl ad, shown five months before the game’s release.
The game is exploding in the United States. It’s the top Android and iOS app in the U.S. according to App Annie and on July 8th, only 2 days after the app’s release, it was already installed on 5% of all Android devices in the US. If that doesn’t seem like much, consider that by Thursday, July 7th, Pokémon Go was already installed on more U.S. Android phones than Tinder.
Skyrocketing international growth, before the official release
While the game is officially available in 26 countries, including the U.S., Canada, Australia, and many European countries, it’s not available in many emerging market countries. Despite this, the game is skyrocketing the top apps charts in countries where it’s not officially available. We looked at the top apps as measured by the average number of daily active users (DAU) in India, Brazil, Indonesia, and Mexico since the app launched on July 6th. In each country, the app increased its daily rank day over day, sometimes at a rate of 2-3x. Brazil saw the highest daily rank increase between launch day and July 17th, rising from #16,717 to #72 most used app in the country. In all four countries, the game is ranked in the top 100 apps as measured by daily active users, and the game isn’t even available to download in the Google Play Store!
The app is ranked at #19 in Mexico as of July 17th (when we exclude our own mCent app and Google Play from the list), above other popular giants like Spotify, Skype, Snapchat, and Facebook Lite. Just like in Brazil, Pokémon Go was ranked in the top 100 apps on the first day it launched globally. It’s also the number one game in Mexico as measured by DAU. What’s particularly impressive about Pokémon Go’s rank in Mexico is that 11 of the top 25 apps are Google apps, including many that are pre-installed on Android devices. These apps are available on a user’s device from the moment they power it up, so it’s no surprise they get a lot of usage. Users have to go through the extra steps to find Pokémon Go and download it; a really powerful move for an app that’s being downloaded illegally.
The game is beating out larger apps in India as well. According to Jana data, on July 11th, Pokémon Go had more daily active users in India than many other larger, popular games like Clash Royale. It only has a handful less daily active users than Indian giant The Hindu News app. Pokémon Go even has more DAU’s than Tinder—users in India are catching the flying Pidgey more than they are swiping right.
How is Pokémon Go invading emerging markets?
We have seen users in India publicly sharing their Pokémon Go usage on social media, but how did it get there? One way users may be downloading the app is by obtaining the Android Application Packages (APK’s) through file sharing apps like SHAREit, which is installed on 66% of Android devices in India, and free APK download sites. Since many use SHAREit to send apps to their friends, it plays well in the viral, word-of-mouth growth of Pokémon.
According to Similar Web, many are downloading the game through apkmirror.com. The website saw a huge spike in visits from people wanting to download Pokémon Go. Between June 10th and July 7th, 8% of that site’s traffic came from Brazil, 7% from India, 3% from Indonesia, and 3% from Mexico. However, APK downloads are risky. Since there is no official oversight by Google Play, it’s very simple for a user to accidentally download malware in an effort to download Pokémon Go.
Will Pokémon Go capture emerging market users?
Despite its insane popularity, the game may not be best suited for all emerging markets. For one, the game is a drain on users’ batteries and users will have to overcome both the slow servers that users are complaining about globally and the slower network speeds in emerging markets. On the other hand, many users in emerging markets are gamers—51% of users in Indonesia, 46% in Brazil, and 32% in India use mobile games every day—so it’s quite possible that the game will capture the hearts of these users despite the technical challenges. Indonesian users are especially keen on trends, and Pokémon Go has reached global trend domination status. It’s only a matter of time until we see if the game surpasses other game giants like Clash of Clan in India and Subway Surfers in Brazil. We think that Pokémon Go is gonna catch them all!
Want more app trends? In one of our recent blog posts, we revisited our predictions for the top app trends for 2016. Were we right? We certainly did not see Pokémon Go coming!