Why are so many users abandoning ‘Pokemon Go’?

By Rusty Ellis, Studio M staff

On July 6, every ‘90s kid’s dream came true when Niantic released “Pokemon Go,” a game that allows users to become real Pokemon hunters.

Darius Horton, 21, a junior in journalism at MTSU says he’s an avid ‘Pokemon Go’ player, using every chance he gets while he’s on campus to play the game. (Studio M/Rusty Ellis)

Darius Horton, 21, a junior in journalism at MTSU says he’s an avid ‘Pokemon Go’ player, using every chance he gets while he’s on campus to play the game. (Studio M/Rusty Ellis)

“When you break it down, this is just a mobile app that is designed to get people out and active and have fun,” said Jordan Collins, a 25-year-old user of the game in Nashville.

The initial craze over the game surpassed every predecessor within a week, it became the fastest game to lead both the App Store and Google Play in downloads. (According to SensorTower, the game also became the fastest app to reach 10 million downloads.) It wasn’t a perfect game upon release, but it still received a wealth of support, peaking at almost 45 million daily users.

Then August passed. According to Bloomberg with data from Apptopia, 15 million daily users stopped playing. The game experienced a number of early problems, ranging from server issues, gameplay repetition and lack of meaningful updates from Niantic. Even the most dedicated of players have seen their usage rates drop.

“My playtime has definitely been reduced,” says Emelio Almendarez, a 20-year-old Tennessee Tech student. “I still get on daily, but that’s only because our Wesley Foundation here at (Tennessee) Tech is a ‘Pokestop.’ In terms of walking and maneuvering and playing the game how it’s meant to be played, my gameplay has been reduced, and it doesn’t surprise me.”

Almendarez cites Niantic’s first real changes as one of his primary reasons for stopping, as they made the game less user-friendly.

“I think it was one of the first major updates they had when they got rid of the tracking and just left a radial area for you to wander off into,” Almendarez said. “For me, not having that tracking kind of killed it, not out of laziness, but the fact is you could walk a mile in one direction and then realize you need to double back a whole mile just to get a Pokemon you’re interested in.”

The tracking system has been a hotly debated topic, as many players believe Niantic has yet to get it right. The game started with a fairly simple system, using footsteps to denote how far away Pokemon were. This was removed entirely in their first major update.

Niantic has also been criticized for the content of its updates. While it has released regular updates since the beginning, some players believe changes aren’t positive or up-to-date enough. Failing to remain current can hurt any app, not just “Pokemon Go.”

“In this industry, you have to constantly stay current and constantly be a student,” says Barb McClatchey, a senior member of FedEx’ IT department and one of the company’s mobile app developers.  “You’ve got to stay up on trends, and it moves lightning-fast.”

Since its release, “Pokemon Go” has also been plagued by server issues. These kept some from being able to play the game at all — and even if one was able to play, so many bugs within the game made it almost impossible to use. McClatchey, 54, believes that for any app to be successful, it should be able to be properly used by a variety of users.

“We design our apps so that they’ll be usable by a tech-savvy millennial as well as your great-grandmother,” McClatchey said. “Ease of use is very important.”

On Sept. 13, Niantic released an update that added in the Buddy System, which allows players to collect rewards they’d normally get for catching Pokemon. Niantic is rewarding players who have continued to play the game, even if some are still clamoring for more changes.

Justin Hastings, a 28-year-old user from Mount Juliet, Tennessee, believes adding more of a  teamwork element along with other new features will give users more incentive to play.

“They definitely need to add more social aspects to the game,” Hastings said. “Something to where players can communicate and play together needs to be added. I think they should start releasing more Pokemon and add different functions, like side quests, to keep people interested.”

Even with the drop-off, the game still has a massive following at around 30 million daily users. Most of these users also maintain hope that once Niantic makes serious changes to the game, it will thrive again.

“The game itself is revolutionary,” Almendarez says. “In terms of how cell phone media, cell phone games and even virtual reality can start taking part in more of a common day setting, the game is a spearhead for a lot more to come. I’d hate to see it fall off and the technology plummet because no one kept up with it.”

Studio M, a project of the College of Media and Entertainment at Middle Tennessee State University, is made possible through generous grants and donations from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Tennessean and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. Rusty Ellis is a junior majoring in journalism at MTSU.

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