The Hype Train
July 6th, 2016. I don’t know if you are familiar with this date or not. For those of you who may not be, it is the day “Pokemon Go” entered the world, and come into the world it did. The game exploded onto the stage of life, netting an amazing 50,000 downloads in the first 48 hours. At this point in the game (no pun intended), not even a month after release, the game has garnered over 50 million downloads, and is now estimated to have been downloaded over 75 million times! I will repeat that number in numeric form, 75,000,000. The app is the fastest in the history of smart phones to garner that many downloads, and it still needs to roll out in well over 50 more countries. There are many websites and blogs out there which think it could potentially be just as ubiquitous as some of the most used apps today.
As a little background and what this has to do with me, I grew up in the golden age of Pokemon. The Game Boy Pocket Monster games, Pokemon Red and Pokemon Blue were released in the United States in 1998, creating one of the most lucrative (and addictive) franchises in history. Enter eight year old me. I watched the television show, I had the games, I owned other toys and memorabilia. It was truly a great time to be alive and be a kid. Then as children do, they grow up and leave behind the things they loved in their past…Enter Pokemon Go.
I found the game not long after returning from the honeymoon. I was pretty blown away. A mobile game with Pokemon, I thought. I read the premise with healthy skepticism, thinking it would be some other app that would fade into obscurity. However, the more I read about it, the more excited I grew. It sounded like a cool premise; catch Pokemon when they appear around you. You find different Pokemon in different locations, and when you do find them, you swipe to throw a Poke ball to catch them. Sounds simple and innocent enough right? And the coolest feature? The game gets people up and walking! Tracking Pokemon down, gym battles, and hatching eggs (yes, eggs. You have to walk a certain distance to hatch them). People and children who would never venture out into the sunlight before are now emerging from their dwellings and being physically active. So, in a way, the app is making us healthier. It is getting us moving! People can have fun and get healthier at the same time. That is a huge accomplishment right? What is so bad about that, Don?? Huh??
Alright, sidebar, if you’ve ever played a mobile game ever, you will know that a majority of them are “freemium” games, that is, games which are free to play, but have the option of micro-transactions. Also, in case you don’t know what those are (you live under a rock or something?), micro-transactions are digital items put into a game that you exchange real money for, or you pay real money for digital in-game currency. Alright, now back to the post.
Pokemon Go is no different. It is quite possibly the most “freemium game ever”. Given the popularity of the Pokemon franchise and the nature and design of the game, it was the perfect storm for profitability. Since it’s launch, Pokemon Go has climbed the daily income ladder from $1.6 million a day to a staggering $10 million (or more) a day now. That is a jaw dropping amount of money. If the game were to make that much every day for a year, the total revenue would be $3,650,000,000, or $3.65 billion…
The Sad Truth
…Please, I beg of you. Let that sink in for a minute. A game about catching cute, little monsters by throwing a ball at them on a screen is making more than ten times what the average person in the U.S. will make over their entire lifetime…in just one day. How unbelievable is that?
Wait…I can’t do this. Before I go any further, I have to speak the truth. I have to admit to all of you something horrible that I have done. I, Don Capouch a.k.a That Learning Guy, contributed exactly one dollar to this wretchedly enjoyable game. There was this one Pokemon I hadn’t seen before and I was out of Poke balls, and it was just sitting there…taunting me, telling me to catch it, “But oh, wait,” Ghastly said, “You’re out of Poke balls aren’t you? Too bad. Try again next time.” I had had enough of its taunting. I bought those Poke balls and I caught it! Making it eat its words…but then I realized my blunder. I am one of the millions of people who have lent credence and legitimacy to this time-sucking siren of a game. As such, I ask for your absolution. If I have not yet earned it, allow me to further make the case for uninstalling this application from your phone right now like I have already done.
As I stated above, this game is a money machine. People pay for anything from Poke balls (like I foolishly did, and to catch a Ghastly of all things!) to items which attract Pokemon to their location, or even items which increase the rate at which you earn experience. Back in high school, I was an under-the-radar avid World of Warcraft gamer (see addict). So, I know a thing or two about a game being addictive. This is one of those where people could throw lots of their valuable time and hard-earned money at it consistently for a very long time. I’m going to do some math, using myself as an example first.
Th Price We Pay
I have spent exactly one dollar on this game. “So? That’s nothing, Learning Guy!”
Oh, indeed it is my friends, for that single dollar tells barely the full, sordid story. I have most likely spent at least ten to fifteen hours on this game combined over the last month. As always, I will use my hourly wage as a measurement for this. That would be approximately $30/hr. So, this last month alone, I’ve paid $300-$450 of my time to play this game. Factor in data (since my new plan will reimburse me for data not used), and that is $0.81. In a dollar estimate, that comes to about $452 I’ve spent playing Pokemon Go. It is an atrocious thought, but that’s the reality of it.
If you take everything the average user is doing, they are playing the game for an average of 16.5 hours a month, if they get paid the average American wage, I dunno, spending on average $15 a month in-game, and using 1 gig of data, that comes to a staggering $382/month or $4584/year of someones time, money, and data.
Then you have to factor in all the time people could have spent being productive on something that matters, such as spending time with friends and family or working on a hobby, and it really starts to paint a sad picture of what mobile games like this can do to people and the world (what if that neuroscientist decided to play Pokemon Go instead?). Now, I’m not saying having fun and enjoying a game is a bad thing, but when the numbers pop up like this, you have to admit it is worrisome. Remember, these are (potential) numbers for average people and are quite realistic. So, I implore you, take a look at how much time and money you are investing in this game, and try to invest more of those things in something else. I have a feeling you’ll feel a little bit better about it. I know I do.
And, well, at least Nintendo’s stock jumped up faster-and higher-than a cricket trying to escape quicksand. That is good news for somebody!
-That Learning Guy