It’s been almost 4 weeks since Pokemon GO officially launched, and because of its massive success, people can’t seem to get enough of it. In America, the numbers have been staggering:

What’s more impressive is that there are still dozens of countries waiting for the app to launch.  In the realm of product adoption, this is a massive success story.

A Success Story? Or Tragic Case Study?

Pokemon Go’s developer, NianticLabs, cannot screw up the biggest mobile game in history, right? Not so fast, it looks like they are trying their hardest to make Pokemon Go the biggest “fall from grace” case study in the history of mobile apps.

First off, I want to mention I have been playing Pokemon Go nonstop since it first launched. Seeing Pokemon Go succeed long-term would be amazing and I want to help make this a reality.

Niantic claims players have experienced only 10% of the actual gameplay. Based on the warning signs discussed in this article, only a small fraction of the current players will keep playing until all gameplay is completed.

These warning signs should be the highest priority for Niantic. This article will focus on identifying & resolving Pokemon Go issues. Resolving these problems will lead to increased user retention and higher adoption rates (yes, it is possible).

NOTE: All insights are of my own opinion. This article won’t address gameplay ideas or “nice to have” features but instead focuses on the important elements of product retention.  

Warning Sign #1: Very Little / Inconsistent Communication

PGO SocialWith over 50+ million downloads of the game worldwide, many players in different regions are often left in the dark in regards to news and updates. Let’s take a look at their social media.

Facebook

  • From July 13 to July 30
    • 9 Posts – Launch Updates
    • 1 Post – Gameplay update
    • 2 Posts – Server Updates

Twitter

  • Same Time Frame
    • Updates look similar but with 1-2 retweets

Google+

  • Same updates as Facebook

The biggest gripes that many users have complained about are communication-related:

  • No information on expected launch dates in other countries that currently do not have Pokemon GO
  • Servers often go down at various times of the day in different regions. No communication to users to let them now servers are down. This is especially brutal for players who go to Pokemon Go events
  • No updates or ETAs on when servers will go up when they do go down.
  • Many players often go to non-social media channels (Pokemon Go website, Niantic Blog) for updates that might be upcoming
  • Massive disconnect between players thinking that Nintendo created the game vs the actual developer, Niantic

Any player that wants to see updates or issues finds themselves with no official way of knowing what is going on.

Latest Communication Fiasco – 3 Step Bug

It’s not a good sign that the only time Niantic mentioned the current “3 step bug” (a key feature in the game) was at Comic-Con in late July. This should not be the way a user base receives updates.

Gameplay revolves around exploring and finding Pokemon, the 3 step bug is currently a big deal.

On July 30, Niantic came out with a recent update claiming they have made several adjustments and tweaks in gameplay. The solution to the “3 step bug” was to remove the feature with no reasoning to players on why, and they are angry.

It’s unknown if this issue will be fixed or if this is just a way for them to buy time to fix this bug. However, the Pokemon Go community is pissed for the nth time with the lack of communication.

How To Fix Communication

From bugs to common playability issues, dedicated players are beyond upset and get the feeling that Niantic doesn’t care about their input.

Solving communication issues isn’t rocket science. Let’s break down ways for Niantic to communicate with players around top issues.

Communication of Servers

First, take a look at another game that does an amazing job with communication and keeping users in the know. Riot Games’ “League of Legends” is amazing when it comes to communication with servers.

Server StatusEach server status is based on geographic region. Statuses are indicated with colored logos with a description.

So why should Niantic use a status page

  1. It can dissolve a hefty amount of frustration players have. It won’t dissipate all frustrations, but it will help reinforce players that the game is new and growing.
  2. Adds legitimacy to their brand and reinforces priorities to your paying customers. This one is huge. Pokemon go is a freemium game that allows players to make microtransactions. For players that haven’t put a dime in the game, they can be more lenient towards having downtime. For paying players or potential paying players, this will help resolve the “What am I paying for if the servers are down?” argument. It shows that game experience is a priority.

Being Proactive

If Niantic really wanted to kick it up a notch, they can setup push notifications or send out emails to players in certain regions that they have planned outages.

Communication of Bugs & Gameplay

A great way to let users know they are working on bugs/issues is to create an “Update” blog on the official Pokemon GO site.

  • Make sure any/all updates are posted on Social Media Sites for maximum visibility
  • Pay special attention to comments in the blog posts as users are likely to comment & update any immediate issues or need

This is great for potentially making tweaks or gameplay adjustments for next patches.

Crowdsource Bug Issues

Taking a proactive approach, there should be an immediate need for Niantic to partner up with the biggest Pokemon Go group on the web. Riot Games does this and creates an immediate: “Patch X.X bugs mega thread” on Reddit. This allows the community to directly communicate with the developers for hotfixes and top-priority issues. Check out the screenshot below:
LoL Patch MegaThread

Pokemon Go has an amazing community that wants to see the game succeed. But without any sort of proactive communication, players will eventually give up hope that the game will improve. The question isn’t “if” but rather “when”. In the realm of apps, weeks can feel like years and people aren’t going to be that patient.

Region Launching Communication

Region CommunicationThe surprise launch in early July caught everyone by storm. Yet at this point, the “surprise” has lost its luster and anyone currently caught in the waiting list is anxious.

A solution to this doesn’t need years of growth hacking or a degree in marketing. Simply create a page on Pokemon Go’s site that lets a user search for their country with an estimated launch date.

Doing this will resolve 2 communication issues:

  1. It will make eager fans much happier with realistic expectations.
  2. With extra hype building in those regions, more users will immediately download the app once it’s launched in their proper region.

These fixes require very little use of development and require a dedicated person that works strictly with communication. In the realm of efficiency, the effort to payoff ratio is quite high.

Improving communication along with more social media interaction will do the following:

  • Increase adoption from new countries
  • Help retain users that are on the ropes currently and will help increase the amount of paid users
  • Improve the brand perception that the focus is having an optimal game experience with room for growth

Warning Sign #2: Broken / Shallow Gameplay

At the time of this article, the biggest bug in the game directly affects the “explore & find” feature (3 step bug). Killing half of the appeal of your game will only hinder the experience. Any other game that would have come out with the same issues would have immediate uninstalls and horrific retention rates.

That said, the “Pokemon” brand has bought Niantic some much needed time in fixing these issues. I don’t know how long players will keep playing until they get bored. But with a game that is 10% complete, I’m sure we will find out sooner rather than later.

Pokemon Go won’t die anytime soon, but if Niantic doesn’t get their crap together, they are going to miss out on lots of revenue.

Deeper Look at Trends

PGO Trends

After the first week of launch, we are seeing a downward trend in the average time/user plays. From a peak of 83.9 minutes down to around 40 minutes a day. Even more alarming is average sessions per day is lowering below 15 times a day, nearly a 33% drop off from its peak during launch. [source: Verto Analytics]

These numbers aren’t meant to scare anyone. But if I were Niantic and revenue is my goal, making sure proper gameplay functionality and retaining users would be a top priority. Going back to point #1, without proper communication of updates & planned changes will significantly lower a player’s enjoyment.

How much revenue could they be missing out at this rate?

I believe less communication & fewer gameplay updates available will lead to an “unexpected” drop in revenue. I’m spitballing, but assume they held strong at $1.6 million/day in revenue. It would not surprise me to see them retain 50% of users of that given its current trajectory in the states.

If there was an opportunity to retain users, now would be it. If changes aren’t made that means over $800K/day, or $24M/month in revenue would be missed out. I’m only estimating this based off of trends and interviews with multiple Pokemon Go players.

Previous History of Future Expectations – Not Good

The biggest qualm I have with Niantic is that they have another augmented reality game called ‘Ingress’. Ingress users report that Niantic lacks communication and it takes weeks/months for issues to be fixed.  This falls in line with them claiming that 10% of the games planned content has been created.

However, if that is the case, it leaves me to believe that Niantic will only be focused on its own agenda and is unwilling to take in user feedback. And as shown previously, their response to the “3-step bug” was to remove the feature. As a player & a digital professional, this is a discouraging sign of things to come.

Summary: Niantic desperately needs to communicate and acknowledge gameplay priorities. Or else it will run the risk of losing reputation, daily active users, and revenue.

Warning Sign #3: Suboptimal User Onboarding

User OnboardingOn the surface, the gameplay is straightforward. Create a player – Find a Pokemon – Flick The Ball and catch a Pokemon.  Outside of the initial tutorials of finding a shop and picking a gym, many players were left to figuring things out that would make the game more enjoyable such as:

  • What do the circles do when you catch a Pokemon?
  • What do the steps mean? (before July 30)
  • How do I do gym battles?
  • What does CP do?
  • How do I get Stardust?
  • How do Eggs Work?
  • Does the app need to be open when I travel?

This isn’t even scratching the surface of gameplay questions new players have.  The closest thing I found that had a reasonable amount of information was on the support page for Pokemon GoUsers should not have to go to the support section to understand how 90% of the gameplay works.

Going back to point #2, the game itself still feels like a beta stage and I hope that this gets fixed over time.

Warning Sign #4: No In-Game Viral Loop

Right now I’m going to kill any sort of idea that Pokemon Go had worldwide hype prior to launch before I discuss referrals.

Pokemon vs Pokemon Go trends (January to July) – Pokemon Go was not on anyone’s radar except for die-hard fans

trend1

Pokemon Go (Prior to launch) – In the month of July there was minimal talk of the game up until post-launch.trend2I am not fully sure of the expectation that Niantic had after launch, but I can empathically say worldwide adoption was not anticipated.

That said, you can see that Pokemon Go interest is starting to die down a bit. However, that shouldn’t excuse the fact that there isn’t any sort of viral loop that would either:

  • Have current players refer new players
  • Have players increase average session durations with gameplay interactions

Pokemon Go can generate enough revenue for months by launching in other worldwide regions just on hype alone. But that isn’t a business model. Referrals are the cornerstone of user acquisition and retention when done right.

Pokemon Go Viral Loop Example

In Pokemon Go, all items such as pokeballs, lucky eggs, lures, and incubators are so valuable. The freemium model allows players to purchase these items as opposed to going to pokeshops or leveling up. A fairly common viral loop that would be applicable here would do the following.

  1. Allow the ability to connect via social media (Facebook & Google+)
  2. Provide proper incentives for inviting new users. Such incentives can be:
    – Get X pokeballs for every 10 invites sent
    – After 100 invites, receive 3 lucky eggs
    – Users that get referred automatically get 50 extra pokeballs

Uber & Lift are great examples that work these viral loops that both reward current users and incentivize new users to refer new members.

Uber

Summary

Regardless of the possible new features and promises of more in-depth gameplay, Niantic will (if not already) begin losing a significant amount of players before these features will ever come to fruition if they don’t fix these gaping issues.

Improving communication and spending resources that resolve any major disconnects between the user and developer would come a long way in gaining a positive sentiment for frustrated users and encourage product retention. Players will be more forgiving and more patient. This works with both fixing major bugs and promoting new gameplay features.

If you are a startup, the question to think about isn’t “how do I get as big as Pokemon Go”. You should be asking, “how can I get valuable insights from my users and make them satisfied with what I offer”.