Seven billion dollars. That's how much shares in Nintendo have risen in the days since the game company released Pokemon Go. The app store hasn't seen anything like it. Gaming hasn't seen anything like it. Usage figures are already rivaling those of Twitter, a ten-year- old company valued at around $10 billion. And that's for a single downloadable app. In one week, Pokemon Go accomplish what Foursquare couldn't in seven years. 

So what can we learn from what is already one of the most successful product launches of all time? What elements contributed to the app's success that entrepreneurs can slip into their own products?

First, we can take out some characteristics that are hard to copy and might only have had a marginal effect anyway. Nostalgia for a loved brand probably helped... but not much. Some thirty-somethings will have downloaded the app to return to their teen years. But the user numbers are too big to be powered by happy memories. Plenty of younger people who missed the Pokemania of the nineties are now meeting Pokemon for the first time. I'm 52-years old and I love the game.

And it's not in-built virality. The original Pokemon games were multiplayer. Players who told their friends about the game were rewarded with the chance to battle or trade their Pokemon in the school playground. If you didn't join in, you were left out. Pokemon Go will likely become multiplayer at some point, but for now it's entirely single player.

What has driven the app's growth is traditional word-of-mouth marketing. People who enjoyed the game told their friends so that they could enjoy it too. That happens naturally with every good product.

The freemium model has also helped. If Niantic, the game's makers, had charged a dollar for a download, instead of charging for in-game purchases (and loading up on valuable data), the number of users might still have been high but nothing like the incredible spread we've seen.

But what's really made the difference is the combination of mobile gaming and the real world.

Most of the games in app stores take users out of the real world. Gamers stare at the screen and forget the world around them. But apps like Pokemon Go that combine the gaming world with the real world hit a sweet spot.

It's not just getting out in the world. It's that players see others out in the world. Pass a stranger who is obviously playing and smiles are exchanged. There's the knowing nod of the head to a pack of people passing you by who are excited because they just found Pikachu. And there are the conversations which inevitably take place because a shared experience has sprung up where none existed before.

As I was walking through Washington Park in my hometown of Denver, CO last night after dark, my friend and I came upon a group of no fewer than thirty people gathered at a single location. The energy of the smiles, laughter and excitement was palpable. Strangers became friends, united by silly cartoon monsters.

Perhaps that is the most salient point of all.

We live in complicated times. The political, social and economic dividing lines in The United States, and indeed in many regions of the world,  are creating a great deal of tension.

So when something as simple as a children's game can bring people together regardless of political and religious beliefs, it isn't just a game anymore. Perhaps more powerful than protests, bringing people together can become an instrument for true social change.

Whether Pokemon Go is a passing fad or not depends on how well Niantic creates new features that keep people engaged. Regardless of the app's longevity there's no doubt it has earned a place in the history books as a global phenomenon. If you can find a way to bring people together in your marketing remarkable things can happen. 

 

Published on: Jul 12, 2016
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