Pokemon Go devs need to reconsider their vision following 2022 revenue tank
Seven months ago, I predicted Pokemon Go’s revenue would suffer in 2022 if Niantic didn’t change the game’s direction. I was right.
In 2022, the value of several digital products crashed, including cryptocurrencies, NFTs, and PokeCoins – if players are to be believed. The cost of PokeCoins hasn’t changed, but the price of item bundles and boxes has seen inflation, meaning players don’t get as much bang for their buck as they’ve been accustomed to.
But this is only one of many veritable changes made to Pokemon Go that has enraged the player base over the last two years. Most of these detested decisions were covered in a Dexerto Op-Ed from June 2022, along with the notion that Niantic needed to change directions.
But as the next six months unfolded, none of the highly praised accessibility features from 2020 returned, and Niantic continued to make unpopular changes to Pokemon Go. And the numbers are in. Pokemon Go has seen another $100m drop in total revenue in 2022 with no signs of stopping.
Pokemon Go revenue tanks in 2022
In 2020, when the world was locked, players expected Pokemon Go to wither away along with buffets and struggling small businesses. For a game that thrived on exploring the outdoors and building communities seemingly had no place in a shut-in world.
But, trainers couldn’t have been more wrong. 2020 was Pokemon Go’s most financially successful year to date, and that was thanks to accessibility changes that made the game playable from home. Incense would work even if players were stationary, players had increased range to play, and Remote Raiding was introduced, making the game a hit for consumers and streamers.
Focusing on these features took Pokemon Go from $653 million in earnings in 2019 to $909 million in 2020. This was also the first year Niantic had earned $1 billion as a company in a single year.
However, in 2021, Pokemon Go’s revenue had a slight dip, earning only $877 million. This dip coincided with players being able to rejoin the world and Niantic removing accessibility features. But the real dip in annual revenue had yet to show.
In mid-2022, there were already signs that Pokemon Go wouldn’t have the same financial success it did the two years prior. In Q1 of 2022, revenue was down 45% compared to Q1 of 2021.
And in late January of 2023, Statista revealed that Pokemon Go had only generated $703 million. That’s $200+ million less than 2020 and a massive drop compared to 2021’s marginal dip.
Players are multiplying but not spending
So players aren’t spending, but is Pokemon Go dying? The jury is still out on that topic, as the numbers we’re seeing tell different stories.
Every quarter of 2022 had the lowest number of recorded downloads in the game’s entire lifespan. This includes every quarter from 2016 on. In total, Pokemon Go was downloaded 44.2 million times in 2022. For comparison, 2021 saw 52.8 million downloads.
Despite a decline in downloads, Pokemon Go has seen an increase in active players, maintaining over 80 million active players in the first five months of 2022. And only falling to around 77 million players from June through December.
So the issue is not a lack of players but a lack of reason to spend money. Which has, ironically, caused a lot of frustration within the Pokemon Go community. Players are seemingly willing to pay for PokeCoins to buy Raid Passes and Incense and Pokeball… but only when they function the way they did in 2020.
Or maybe, the lack of spending is because the player base is back outdoors, where most purchasable items can be farmed for free, resulting in a lack of need to purchase items. But if that’s the case, why is everyone so frustrated?
Disabled, Rural, & Weekend Shift players shunned
Niantic’s answer to player outcry has stayed the same for quite some time. When someone asks why the accessibility changes were removed, they often reply it’s to “get back to what it once was. To get players out and in-person again.” As if keeping the features would have stopped this.
The truth is, if a player wants to go out and play Pokemon Go with friends, they’re going to. And if they don’t (or can’t), they’ll stop playing the game. The only alternative was playing from home by utilizing the enhanced features from 2020. What removing these features has done is prohibited certain groups of players from enjoying Pokemon Go.
This affects disabled players who cannot leave their homes, rural players who have nowhere to play locally, and players who work weekends that can’t participate in events. The first two groups are less flexible than those that work the weekend shift, but the point remains the same.
These players are willing to spend money on event tickets and loads of Incense if it means they can enjoy Pokemon Go from the comfort and safety of their homes or offices. But instead, they’re marginalized because their lifestyle or circumstances don’t align with Niantic’s mission statement.
It’s frustrating to see the world’s highest-grossing media franchise be handled in a way that excludes players based on factors they may not be able to control. In a time where video games are becoming more accessible by the day, and companies are praised for their innovation… Pokemon Go is heading in the opposite direction.
Niantic, reimplementing your 2020 accessibility features wouldn’t force people back indoors. It wouldn’t hinder your mission statement, and it wouldn’t hurt your in-person event ticket sales. Instead, these features would encourage play, incentivize purchases, and further expand the enjoyment of playing together in person.