Pokémon Go - and the lifespan of fads in the Internet age

By Hayley Tsukayama

Are we losing interest more quickly than we used to? Photo / Getty Images
Are we losing interest more quickly than we used to? Photo / Getty Images

Pokémon Go -- the augmented reality game that took the classic Japanese franchise into a new age -- took the world by storm last month. But just last week, there was already a slew of articles declaring the game all but dead.

A report from Bloomberg showed that Pokémon Go was already "in decline," including charts from Axiom Management that fewer people are playing the game every day, and that the people who are playing aren't playing for quite as long.

In other words, the red-hot game seems to be cooling fast, according to these statistics, even though the game is barely two months old. And with its apparent decline, one might easily wonder: is the half-life of a fad getting shorter too?

In some ways, yes.

"The Internet has accelerated the spread of fads and shortened their lifespans," said Robert Bartholomew, a New Zealand-based sociologist who recently examined Pokémon Go for Psychology Today.

In an e-mail to The Post, Bartholomew said, "I also think we are seeing more fads but they are flaming out much quicker on average."

For example, one of history's most famous fads, the hula hoop, took weeks to catch on across the globe and was the it-toy of 1958.

"It essentially lasted the entire year," Bartholomew said. "Contrast this with Internet fads. The Charlie-Charlie pencil game only lasted a couple of months and was driven by YouTube. Pokémon Go spread around the world in a matter of days despite attempts to delay its release in certain countries. It too is fading fast, and will soon go the way of Flappy Bird, Fruit Ninja and Candy Crush."

Looking at search interest, it is certainly clear that Pokémon Go has had a much sharper decline in interest than, say, Farmville -- another game that seemed to be everywhere all at once, back in 2010.

Google Search trends show that Pokémon Go hit its peak fast in July and dropped to half of that interest by the time August rolled around.

Meanwhile it took Farmville months to fall off to that level of interest.

But it's not at all clear that the lifespan of a fan is speeding up in every case.

The Internet has accelerated the spread of fads and shortened their lifespans.

Some recent Internet fads have taken a quick nose-dive -- people pretty much stopped searching for "Left Shark" once all the Super Bowl confetti had cleared. But Google also shows, for example, that it took us about a long to shut up about "The Dress" in 2015 as it did to get us to stop being so darn interested in "The Ice Bucket Challenge" a year earlier. And "Pizza Rat," which surfaced in 2016, fell off its peak quickly, but has had seen further bursts in popularity to keep the ball in the air.

In other words, while the lifespan of a fad certainly may have changed in the past 50 years, that doesn't mean that every new fad is going to have a shorter and shorter time at the top.

Which brings us back to Pokémon Go.

Pokémon Go is an interesting case. For one, it's not unusual to see sales of any entertainment drop off after an initial sales period -- there's a reason that opening weekend sales are the ones touted most often. Secondly, the game's had some problems of its own making, which may have prematurely squelched some enthusiasm for it. Not to mention, the school year has started in many places, meaning that players can no longer take advantage of long, empty summer days.

The adoption of apps is shorter and shorter than it was in 2014.

And, even with all of the doom and gloom in the headlines, it's still the top-grossing app in many countries -- including the US. By those metrics and the standards of mobile gaming, it's still a major success.

"Pokémon Go has exceeded over $400 million in customer spend across both app stores with well over 160 million downloads globally," said Fabien-Pierre Nicolas, vice president of marketing communications at the app analysis firm App Annie. So while it's true that Pokémon Go and other fads may see the most intense interest fade quickly, what goes up doesn't necessarily have to come all the way back down.

Not only that, the game is retaining its core audience -- aka, the people who will actually pay to play -- very well, Nicolas said. And, he said, it's managing to do that and still attract players without any heavy marketing campaigns. (No Arnold Schwarzenegger or Kate Upton Super Bowl commercials here. Yet.)

Nicolas does agree that, when it comes to mobile games, we are seeing titles such as Clash Royale (from the makers of Clash of Clans) or Pokémon Go reach their heights faster. "Where it took a few months for Clash of Clans or Candy Crush, Clash Royale can hit that peak faster," he said.

"Overall adoption of apps is shorter and shorter than it was in 2014."

To avoid becoming a flash in the pan, he said, mobile games must work to transform their product into more of a service -- an app that keeps people coming back with fresh content and new experiences. As long as Niantic listens to its players, he said, the company shouldn't have to worry about it fading completely into obscurity.

- Washington Post

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