Today on the Edge of Innovation, we talk about Pokemon Go and some reasons it may have declined in popularity after the initial hype.

Show Notes

Tim Cook and Augmented Reality




Paul: This is the Edge of Innovation, Hacking the Future of Business. I’m your host, Paul Parisi.

Paul: Hi, I’m Paul Parisi.

Steve: And I’m Steve Miller.

Paul: Are you?

Steve: No.

Paul: Okay. We had a conversation a few weeks ago about Pokémon Go, which is now Pokémon Went.

Steve: It’s more like Pokémon No, according to the critics.

Paul: Not Pokeman, Pokémon. Okay. Anyway, I wanted you to share some of your insights on to why it’s went.

Steve: Why it’s went. Why it’s gone? Poké-gone?

Paul: Well, it’s going.

Steve: Yeah. Yeah, so there’s been a lot of news. I think we have one particular article that we’re citing in the show notes of just how Pokémon GO has declined sharply after the initial hype. It’s true that there have been some issues with the game, and I’d be happy to review those in the next couple of minutes here.
Paul: So what do you mean with the game, because everybody loved it. It was going along well. It had huge traction.

Steve: Right. So, before I get into the issues that I think might have added to some traction, I’d like to just… Within gaming, it is very rare that a game keeps the spike that it has when it first comes out. I think the reason… You know, Bloomberg doesn’t publish articles on, “Oh,” a big game was called Sky Ribbon rr0. “Skyrim players are down,” you know, “PS, PlayStation, reports this.” They don’t say that, because that’s expected of most games. A lot of people will buy it. A lot of people will play it the first week, and then a lot of people will set it on the shelves and it becomes the core group of players essentially.

I think the issue with Pokémon GO is that it was in such a mainstream position and made so much money so quickly, that when the natural decline of the video game came around and it fell more to its core player base, the people that were excited about it initially, it was just noticeable. For what I can tell, this happens pretty regularly with video games. And that’s the rare ones that stick around and continue to grow and grow versus fall off like that.

Paul: So maybe it was somewhat of an irrational expectation for it to continue at the feverish pace that it had begun.

Steve: Yes. Having said that, I think there are things they could do to have kept it at a more feverish pace. I think that there’s probably a sharper drop off than they could have had with all the initial hype.

Paul: What do you think that was?

Steve: I think that the, the article was right, and it said that they removed features from the game.

These are the two things that I think really stand out to me. They said they removed features from the game, and they didn’t communicate well with the audience.

Paul: Well, yeah. Those are two vastly different things. So you go out and you buy a television. You bring it home, and now, all of a sudden, and you unbox it, and you’ve got the remote, and then they come to your house and take the remote away.

Steve: Yeah. That’s a good illustration.

Paul: What their deal? I mean, why in the world would anybody take features away?

Steve: Yeah. I think that they… This is not a justification for them. This is a problem that they hit, is that they didn’t expect the game to be so big. And I think that they didn’t, you know, bug test, essentially, for the scale that it would be used on.

Paul: So they had technical issues.

Steve: Exactly. Yeah. So they, basically, instead of solving the issue, they removed a huge feature of the game that was used at first.

Paul: Which feature was that?

Steve: It was to help you track where the Pokémon were, essentially, to tell you how close you were. It gave you an approximate proximity, basically. And they’ve removed that. And it’s a very different thing to not have something in a game when it starts and then add it later versus to give somebody something and then take it away.

Paul: Well, certainly. Where’s my remote control? It’s gone.

Steve: Yeah. That’s an extremely painful thing to do. There’s a scale of video game issues. There’s a thing known as the day-one patch now, which is becoming famous, infamous. Famous. Either way. Both work.
But the idea is that the publishers saved some of the troubleshooting for the last couple of weeks while the game is getting published, essentially. And then on the first day you get the game, you have this two-hour download of, “Well, here’s all the things we’ve patched out in the last two weeks.” And that’s somewhat unpopular. There are some games, companies, that still work hard to not do that, essentially. So I think Pokémon GO has shifted past the day-one patch into the day-one-we-can’t-even-remediate-this day one. So it’s outside the expectations in that range.

And with, as far as communication goes, I guess, to keep going with the illustration that says if the company showed up at your house without calling you and took the remote and then didn’t tell you why they took the remote. Communication in gaming communities is very big. I know that a lot of the stigma around gamers is that, you know, a gamer is someone who sits in their basement and doesn’t talk to anybody, is on their own, doesn’t have friends, etc., etc.

But the gaming community has always been a very tight thing. I think it’s sort of the modern version of the bowling club or, you know, maybe the card club. There’s less getting together in person, but there’s a tie around a common thing. You sit down, you sit together. You discuss strategies. You play together. These are the guys that you go and do your, I think it’s called a third space in sociological terms. It’s like the coffee shop kind of feel.

Paul: Sure. Virtual coffee shop.

Steve: Exactly. So it’s a virtual third space might be a good way to put it. So there’s all this communication happening already. And if there’s fostered frustration within that community, uh, there’s an unspoken expectation that the game developers might be able to hear that and add it.

Paul: Was there unspoken, or was there spoken concern in those communities?

Steve: Yeah. Particularly when the features were removed, there was why— “When are we fixing this?” “Why is it not being fixed?” And you get a vague, “We will be addressing this later.”

Paul: Oh, yeah. Right.

Steve: Or maybe. Yeah, that’s sure to cause internet riots, essentially.

Paul: Did you get a sense why they didn’t say, “Hey, guys. We’re having problems, and we had to take this, this feature offline for a little bit”?

Steve: Um…no.

Paul: I mean, that seems like a lot better way to put it.

Steve: Yeah. I would love to hear what you think about it as a, you know, as a tech guy and a businessman. But within the video game development, often this happens, and no communication is established. I think it’s a big thing that they’re missing.

There are a few games that do it really well. There’s a game called League of Legends, which is very big. And they actually made a huge change in the system at the beginning of this year. And at the end of this year, they have reverted and said, “We listened to our fans, and we realize that even though we like it, we’ve done the wrong thing.” They are one of the most widely played video games, and they were founded on the commitment of “We’re going to listen to our players and follow through with them.”

I’ve played the game. It’s fun. But I think the commitment to communicate with players might be that key bit that’s missing.

Jacob: Steve, this is Jacob. I was wondering, just listening in on this. Is there an established way for gamers and developers to communicate to each other? Is that like just through message boards? Or is there anything that they have like an established sort of relationship?

Steve: Yeah. That’s a good question. I think it happens a lot through message boards on websites and related social media as well as press releases. As bigger games get more money, they’ll do full-on, almost like ESPN casts, sitting down, talking with developers, or interviews, professional things like that that express direct frustrations with the company. The bigger the budget, the more they can do with that, essentially.

Paul: Do you think, though… I mean, I would imagine the answer is yes. But let me ask the question. Do you think there are different levels in — I don’t want to use the word factions — by of these different groups. There are people that are engaged in the forums or in the communications, in the third…third what?

Steve: The third space, I think it’s called.

Paul: Third space. In the third space. But Pokémon was so ubiquitous that many of those… Am I right in saying that many of the people who played Pokémon probably never had a perception of a third space, or certainly an engagement in it?

Steve: When they came into play? Yeah.

Paul:When they came into play and as they continued to play.

Steve: Yeah. That’s quite possible, I would say. And I think that that was a lot of the shock from the game initially, was the idea that, “Wow, I’m out getting to meet people and play a game that’s… I’ve never done anything like this before.” I think that some of that might be from non-gamers coming out. And people that don’t regularly game, and they’re like, “Wow. There’s community to this.”

Jacob Just one idea in terms of establishing an effective way of communicating with, between developers and the gaming community is using Slack. I know.

Jacob: I use it all the time. But—

Dan: No, but this is the third space instance.

Paul: Hold on. I understand that you’re the Slack champion in this business…
Jacob: I am the Slack evangelist. But I’m just saying, I’m on a few Slack channels for other apps, and they use it as a way to communicate between beta users and so it might be a way of just establishing a way of, like, “Hey. We’ve got this.

Paul: But more practically, I guess, you know… Well, there’s a couple of different things. Let’s address these. One is that you have an expectation by the player. I don’t know what their expectation is. They want to have fun. They want to do whatever the value proposition is that they perceive of the game. So they go off and they download the game, and they play it. It’d be interesting to see how many people became disenchanted with the game because of the feature, you know, demoting the features, because you’re talking about a much bigger cross-section of people than typically play a game.

So let’s say, compare it to League of Legends you’ve got gamers playing. The Pokémon stuff was everybody was playing it.

Steve: Yeah. For a time. Yeah, that’s true.

Paul: So, if I take away a key feature, is that going to affect the gamers? Yes. And they’re going to be interested in it and involved in the third space, forums, etc. The other people that have just picked it up because it’s the thing to do, does that affect them? I don’t know.

Steve: Yeah. That would be interesting. So the, the thing with Pokémon Go is that it crossed over into the app world where anyone who has a smartphone uses an app, basically. There’s probably something there are a future gaming business, but I’m not thinking about that right now. But with an app, if you… I don’t remember off the top of my head, but I think there’s a lot of basically downloading an app, opening it, getting frustrated with it, and not, like—

Paul: Or not.

Steve: Yeah. Not even frustrated, but subconsciously, “Okay, this isn’t worth my time,” and then you close it. And so I’m wondering if a lot of the casual players of it never had to conclude, “I don’t like that they removed this feature,” as much as, “Oh, well, nothing has really changed.” Or, “Nothing has really improved to keep me here.” Or, you know, “My friends have stopped playing.” Maybe the friends that got them into it got frustrated with it, and they just kind of subconsciously moved on, because their friends had, and… It would be tough to tie it all together with so many people, but yeah.

Paul: It would be interesting to segment the adopters of Pokémon into the mainstream and to the gamers. You know, those two sort of groups and see how saturated they were and see how they each responded. But, you know, talking about, you know, yes, you could use Slack, which requires an investment on the person, the slacker, uh, in order to consume the Slack information.

Steve: Just what I want — another app on my phone to talk about an app that I don’t like.

Paul: But why wouldn’t they have just put a message that popped up in the, in the app that said, “Hey,” you know, “We just had to remove this because of scamming issues.” I mean, more marketing friendly thing. Did they do that? Or did it just disappear?

Steve: Yeah. They just disappeared. I mean, you could read the update logs if you wanted to.

Paul: But what did they say on in the update? Did they say, “Tough. Too bad for you”? Or did they appeal to people’s—

Steve: Yeah. I think it was the PR version of that, of we’ve had to remove this because it didn’t work. Sorry.

Paul: Okay. But they didn’t put it front and center. So most people probably never perceived that.

Steve: Yeah. It’s possible. It was a part of the fun of the game was sitting there and saying, “Okay, I’m closer. I’m closer. Oh, I’m on top of it. I just need to look around a little bit under this bush or whatever we are.” So, yeah. So there was the joke about a lot of games get delayed and the way they present that is, you know, they’ll say, “Well, we’re excited to be bringing this game to you in, you know, fall of 2017.”
And the announcement in the spring was, “We’re excited to be bringing this game to you fall of 2016.” So it’s like, there’s no change in the tone. It’s, you know, the newspapers pick it up, and say, “Oh, well the game has be delayed,” but they just present it like, “Oh, it’s coming a little later now, and you’ve got to deal with it.”

Paul: So, I see that, you know. I mean, the new Star Trek series on CBS was supposed to launch in January. And then it was pushed back to March. And people were like, “Well why?” And I think this brings into, you know, one of the things that’s very key in my mind is managing people’s expectations. So if I say to you, you know, if you do this, you’re going to get, you know, a free, free cup of coffee. And then you do that, and you don’t, it’s much worse than if I hadn’t told you that you’re going to get the free cup of coffee. People, especially Americans, don’t like to have things taken away, whether they cost them something or not. And that’s a really important thing to manage in all of these things. And we see that technically all the time. You know, Yahoo just had this problem where they inadvertently, or they had an upgrade, and they had to disable, for some reason, the ability to forward messages from your Yahoo account to a third, second email account.

Steve: Oh my gosh. So everyone that started with Yahoo and moved on to Gmail, missed emails for…

Paul: That…not only that, but as, as Yahoo seems to go into a train wreck of a melt down with all the security issues, people have been maybe motivated to think, “Hey, I should, I should move over to some other service,” went to say, “I want to forward. Oh, I can’t forward my mail. What can I do now?” Yahoo stated that that was something that they had done because there was a problem that is now “fixed.” The future is now restored.
So it’s very interesting. You know, I’m not sure what the real story is there. It would be interesting to see what it was, whether and was a, uh, you know, a way to keep people from moving on, or was it a way, really, a technical problem? And if it was a real technical problem, you know, explain it to us that are technical. And I’m sure we can understand it. Uh, so I think what you’re saying is, you know, it would be good to be transparent in all of this stuff. And that level of transparency, I am surprised at the willingness for people to deal with the transparency. In other words, even if it’s bad news, they will deal with it better than it being withheld from them.
Well, thank you, Steve, for coming on today and sharing those insights on Pokémon and how it’s demised, maybe. I mean, hopefully they’ll be able to recover. Maybe they can get a little bit more buzz. Appreciate your time.

Steve: Absolutely. Thanks for having me.

Also published on Medium.