Blog: How Niantic’s response to COVID-19 has protected Pokemon GO

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Pokémon GO tends to perform in peaks and troughs, which reflects in the update cycles of the game. According to Priori Data, it saw a decline of 19.61% in net revenue in 1Q20, compared with 4Q19, across Apple App Store and Google Play combined. This is not unusual for the first quarter, given seasonality and the high consumer spending associated with the fourth quarter across most markets. Pokémon GO had a similar net revenue decline of 22.8% in 1Q19 versus 4Q18.

In fact, the game appears largely untouched by the COVID-19-induced lockdown so far, with healthy net revenue and continuous growth throughout 1Q20. What’s more, the game hit peak monthly active users (MAUs) for the year so far in March, at 16.9m, which suggests that users are increasingly unfazed by quarantine regulations. Despite a marginal dip in April, net revenue is set to reach its 2020 peak in May at just shy of $50m.

In early March, Niantic announced changes to its location-based AR games, including Pokémon GO and Wizards Unite, which would make them easier to play from home. For Pokémon GO, these measures included:

  • Distances needed to walk to hatch an egg were halved, Pokéstops dropped gifts more frequently, and the wild Pokémon spawn rate was increased
  • Players could purchase Pokémon-attracting incense more cheaply, and it would last for twice as long
  • The PvP feature Go Battle League no longer required players to walk, or pay, to enter
  • Players could organise their own tournaments without needing to physically scan each other’s QR codes

 If any game category was at risk from the COVID-19 pandemic, it was the location-based AR genre. This demonstrates the importance of flexibility, and of responding quickly to potentially game-changing events. User engagement with the games sector more broadly has benefitted considerably from lockdown.

The US and Japan are the most substantial markets for Pokémon GO, with the combined territories accounting for 65% of app store net revenue in 1Q20. The virus only started gaining traction in these countries later in the quarter. As a result, the measures taken to enable at-home play will likely offset any notable decline in engagement through 2Q20.