What Pokemon Go Teaches Us About the Need for Product Development

In case you arent someone who pays attention, Pokemon Go was a worldwide phenomenon app and game, but has since found that success isnt easy to maintain. For months, huge demand crashed servers, brought fitness to gaming, impacted home prices near in game locations, and launched a drove of hunters that would stop at nothing to get their favorite Pokemon.

Problem is, with a year removed from this viral sensation, the game has seen enormous drops in participation. Although there are still many players who still partake in the fun, the overall community has boiled down to loyalists, with many of the casual gamers moving on.

Sound familiar?

It should, as we saw a very similar spike in digital card trading apps around 2015, only to see the massive traffic settle to where it has been for the last year. This includes a massive launch of two Star Wars movies, a World Series Champion 100 years in the making, and a historic Super Bowl win for Tom Brady.

It boils down to one major driving force in both situations, with a secondary influence that rings true across both platforms as well. Number one with a bullet is product development, or continually advancing the features of the game to foster user engagement. For Pokemon, almost a full year went by without addressing major concerns of the community. In a simple term here, the game is pretty much as it was, with a few extra features bolted on. The second prevailing factor is community feedback, which has been a struggle in its own right. Again, a very familiar refrain from Topps Digital loyalists as well.

If you look back through the last few months of this blog as well, you will see a reduced post count as compared to a year ago, something that speaks volumes about my engagement in the apps. I was also one of those people who dove in headfirst for Pokemon Go, and the app is not even on my phone any longer. Bottom line, my attention span is limited, as is my desire to participate in ongoing engagement for apps that still feel like nothing has changed since 2014.

Although bolt on features like Batter Up, the new Prize Wheel, and Video Cards have made their debut, the app itself is still heavily dependent on features in DIRE need of an update. Things like Collection Score, contests in the sports apps, and overall addition of game like function to the app has been something I have harped on for almost 5 years.

Factoring in that Pokemon is a much younger app, with a much larger audience and team behind it, we should expect that these issues provide a roadmap, especially with such a dedicated community. Pokemon is also a notoriously difficult license to work with, much like Lucasfilms, the NFL and MLB have proven to be for Topps.

At some juncture in the future, the cycle of product development needs to be something that generates real buzz. Topps competition seems to be taking this very seriously in Quidd and Panini apps, with something as simple as group case breaks and pack battles coming out of no where for Blitz and Dunk on the Panini side. Both apps have also mastered serially numbered cards, and have done so with a much more limited resource budget and team available. Regardless of these features, no one has seemed to break through the main question that has plagued Topps since day one.

“How do we get people to care about digital cards?”

The answer isnt that simple, and Im almost positive that there is yet to be a discussion that doesnt devolve into pack mechanics and new content to be released. Much like Topps, Pokemon’s answer has been new content as well, with added Pokemon driving much of the traffic coming back to the app. They still havent addressed the major concerns that bite at the soul of the series. There is no community that is organically integrated into the app, and no trading or teaming available outside of the minimal function already installed. Its hurt the potential of the game, and hurt the revenue generation of the company.

Nintendo stock jumped when Pokemon Go went viral, and Niantic was looking like the next big game developer. None of that has been sustained.

I have posted as recently as last month about the need for more game based engagement across Topps’ stable of apps, even something as simple as recognizing users more frequently, or creating a leaderboard based on a redux of collecting goals. If no one understands how collection score works, why does it still exist? If trader rating has no impact on any access to the game, why does it still exist? If XP and levels dont add much to the user experience, why does it still exist? All of these things have game function that should be tied to them, and yet, none of them actually do anything.

For the longest time, we have all put up with vestigial additions to each apps’ overall function, all with promises of changing the way we engage. Instead, we see each and every new function fall by the wayside, as the team continues to focus on driving new releases and more cards, instead of really augmenting the experiences of the users in a positive way.

Im obviously someone that has fallen for it, continually pumping money into the apps as my daily fix of dopamine needs filling. I will say that it isnt as joyous as it used to be, and that’s the problem. The growing resentment of purchase power has been huge, and we have seen that resentment claim a number of big spenders over the years. People are no longer purchasing because they want to, they are purchasing because of obligation to the existing investment they have already made into an intangible commodity.

Its the gambler’s fallacy in action, and that is tough pill to swallow for most. “I have already spent this much, I might as well keep going. Ill win eventually.”

This overarching theme begs the question though, is there truly a way to win here? Hopefully both Pokemon and Topps find ways to further engage their audiences, especially with how much is on the line. The main difference is that Niantic is a company focused on gaming. Topps is a company focused on physical trading cards. That cannot be overstated enough.

Hopefully, we all get to experience the next stage in what might be coming. I want it to be as glorious as it was back in the beginning of the 2010s, but my patience is wearing thin.

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