Despite the fact that Pokémon Go has become the world’s biggest mobile game, it has already started its certain decline. This is despite the fact that the game is showing a greater ability to retain users than most mobile games.
Although it may be stating the obvious that all mobile games will eventually become less popular, it is the way in which this attrition of users happens which turns out to be absolutely constant. Craig Palli of Fiksu has shown that user retention decline in games follows a distinct pattern. The figure below is for 5 games, each with over 20 million downloads.
The pattern is identical to one colleagues at UWA and I found for users dropping out of doing massive open online courses (MOOCs). A feature of MOOC attrition is the extremely high attrition rate whose rate of decline was constant across different MOOCs with different initial enrolment sizes. Like free-to-play games, MOOCs cost nothing to enrol and have no consequences for leaving.
Although it might be tempting to think that Pokémon Go might be different, the graph shown above includes the data for Candy Crush, which users still spend more time playing than Pokémon Go.
Pokémon Go has enjoyed a boost in its initial success in part because the players themselves have been far more visible as it plays out in public. This has led to large gatherings of thousands of players sharing the gaming experience. In the initial days of playing when the novelty is at its height and going through the lower levels is straightforward, the rewards of playing are such that people are highly motivated to get out and play.
Attrition curves for games show a typical fast loss of users followed by a slower, more gradual decline. The fast initial loss of users comes from those who downloaded the game and because it hasn’t cost them anything, give it up just as easily. In the case of Pokémon Go, these users may simply be those who have downloaded the game because of the publicity but aren’t gamers or aren’t captivated by the game.
The slower decline comes from users who do persist and get to a point in the game where the difficulty requires either skill and perseverance, or paying for features that accelerate progress.
With Pokémon Go, there is a clear point where catching the same Pokémon becomes repetitive and the combat in the PokéGym too competitive until a player reaches the higher levels, which of course they can’t do unless they start paying or putting in much more effort. At this point, the intrinsic motivation that was driving the play diminishes and the likelihood of giving up increases.