Pokémon Go was an international phenomenon last fall, sending players wandering streets and parks to capture little creatures displayed on their smartphones. Months later, after Pokémon hysteria dissipated and manic crowds dispersed, only the most devoted players remain. And it turns out there are millions of them—some of whom will even turn up for a festival in Chicago.
About 60 million people still play Pokémon Go each month, according to data from mobile app research firm Apptopia, and one in five of those players opens the game on a daily basis. Over the past year, the research firm found, the app has been downloaded 755 million times and has earned more than $1.2 billion in revenue since its July 2016 debut.
That durable popularity, even after nonplayers stopped reading about the game in trend stories, helps explain why thousands of hardcore players flocked to Chicago's Grant Park this past weekend to take part in a sold-out festival. Ticket-holders were promised the chance to catch rare monsters and hang with other fans wearing Pikachu costumes and Magikarp helmets.
The event turned out to be plagued by technical issues. Error screens made the game all but impossible to play, and every cell network buckled under the demand of the Pokémon crowd. When developer Niantic's chief executive officer, John Hanke, took the stage, fans greeted him with boos.
By mid-afternoon, it was clear the game wasn't going to work, and organizers had to call the event off. Attendees were promised refunds, extra in-game currency, and a free rare Pokémon. "From everyone at Niantic, we apologize to all of the Trainers who came out to Pokémon Go Fest today," Niantic said in a statement. "Although we were able to solve many of the technical issues, we were not able to offer every attendee a great experience."
Niantic has been continually adding content to Pokémon Go, including dozens of new creatures, even after the initial hype faded to keep its most loyal players glued to the game. Developers are discussing adding such features as breeding, training, and trading the critters. Behind the scenes, Niantic is also adding new advertising deals in partnership with retailers to sponsor locations.
Yet the Chicago debacle showed fans a frustrating limitation of Pokémon Go, which by its very nature is a game that encourages interaction with other players in an augmented-reality world rendered on smartphones. Pokémon Go had debilitating server issues in its first month, rendering the game virtually unplayable. Fixing any such issues will be especially important with the upcoming co-operative raid battle system, which will involve up to 20 players grouping together to take down and capture big bad "legendary" monsters.
-- Bloomberg News