Pokémon Go is a free-to-play (offering in-app purchases) location-based augmented reality mobile game available for iOS and Android devices. It was developed by Niantic and published by The Pokémon Company as part of the Pokémon franchise. It was released on July 6, 2016.

Pokémon Go succeeded in few days to surpass many big startups in terms of daily active users, and have almost overtaken Twitter within 3 days. Now after 20 days the game have been installed more than 75 million times, all while being only available for 30% of potential market, and without being featured on the Google Play or the App Store in any country (according to Sensor Tower).

pokemon go daily active users

So the question on everybody’s mind:

How did Pokémon Go become Viral ?

Before understanding the mechanism behind the viral growth of Pokémon Go, we need to understand the product:

And the product can be defined by 3 Words:

The 1st word is “Google”: Google team made the app, to be exact, Niantic, Inc the company that developed Pokémon Go, was an internal startup within Google, it was spun out of as an independent entity in October 2015. So you would expect that the product would be: smooth, bug free, well conceived and would offer a top notch experience.
Furthermore before offering a deal to Pokémon to use their franchise, Niantic developed a game that has almost identical features. In other words Niantic is not your typical small startup, but it’s a google powered machine.

The 2nd word is “Nintendo”: In the world of gaming, the 3 major players are Playstation, Xbox and Nintendo, thus Nintendo have a huge following of gamers, ready to jump on the next bandwagon, whatever the bandwagon is.

The 3rd word is “Pokémon“: There was a craze about pokémon since early 1998 and that lasted many years (games, cards, cartoon series & movies), kind of like the Angry birds craze from a couple years ago. This means there are an army of nostalgic people ready, to be in the shoes of Ash Ketchum, and the AR (augmented reality) experience would allow this to be possible.

The mechanism behind the viral growth of Pokémon Go :

Successful apps, games and startups usually credit their success to successful Viral Marketing campaign, successful Growth hacking tactics (gamification) or their ability to create Buzz through the press & PR.

Pokémon Go, is no exception, but in their case, creating buzz through the press was the way to go, especially that they had huge reservoirs of nostalgic fans in their 20’s and 30’s that can be reached easily through press.

So the first step was creating hundreds of PR stunts skeptical news reports and internet stories:
– People getting into car accidents because they stopped the car to catch a pokemon.- People finding dead bodies while playing Pokémon Go.
– A guy catching a pokemon while wife is in hospital, giving birth.
– Thieves louring victims playing PokemonGo
– People getting fired from jobs etc..

Yes most of these stories are negative, but as they say, “There is no such thing as bad publicity”, and in this case the objective was to reach as many potential fans as possible, and there’s nothing better than shocking stories to do that.

The second step was to amplify the reach, and make even the not so big fans of pokémon, wanna try it. To do that they needed to focus on the viral growth news, as i always say “To go viral, you need to be viral!”, telling stories truths and half truths about how the app is going viral was actually making the app go viral.

The third element is obviously working with influential people via blog vlog outreach , also i wouldn’t be surprised if Google was involved in promoting it on google play store or promoting the youtube videos etc..

Yes the game is the first successful AR game novelty, is free and have some level of gamification, feeds the herding part of our brain, and gives us the feeling that we are achieving something, but all these are minor factors in it’s virality. The real factors is curiosity which was created by the huge media attention add to that the pokémon factor and social network effect, (this game have succeeded in creating a limited social network effect) where friends try to compete or collaborate with their friends.