Game On – Pokemon Go: Marketing Marvel?

Pokémon Go has been taking the UK and much of the world by storm. It was a mere two weeks ago when the world seemed an altogether quieter place; without streets full of people endlessly throwing pokeballs, visiting pokestops and an endless stream of ever more and more bizarre news stories.

Pokemon Go marks a real change in video games; instead of users being sat down playing a game behind a screen – to play, users have to get up and get exploring their locality and the wider world.

Why Now?

You might be left wondering why Pokemon has experienced this renaissance. After all, Pokemon was primarily popular in the late nineties and earlier noughties; when playing cards, a Game Boy game and a TV series were the most popular fruit that the brand came to bear.

The answer really lies in the marriage of two areas – a technology and a story. The technology in this case is augmented reality – as the name suggests this is reality overlaid (or augmented) with another layer. In this case, the layer is the world of pokemon and pokestops.

Pokemon are fantasy creatures that live in the wild, there’s many different types – mostly based on real animal species and they love to battle each other. Pokestops are areas of interest, in this case mapped into the game through GPS mapping – religious sites, local pubs and memorials make up a lot of UK based sites.

Augmented reality isn’t a new technology, ever since app centric smartphones started to grow popular – software companies have been realising GPS based augmented reality games: take this example from 2009. Like so many things, the technology has existed but without a proper raison d’être. Many of whom are playing the game are now in their 20s and 30s, they’re familiar brand and already know the game from their youth. Nostalgia can’t be understated as major factor in the app’s success.

So it would seem, the perfect cocktail for success here is:

A technology that has yet to appeal to mainstream audiences (in this case, GPS based augmented reality)


A familiar story (audiences who are already familiar with Pokemon)

= mainstream success

There are a few other additional factors to take into this equation. Pokemon never went away from the early noughties up until 2016 – whilst popularity waned, it never crashed. Many born 2000 + are still familiar with the brand through later video games. Even for those children who are not familiar with Pokemon – the widespread popularity of the game has meant that a new generation has become interested in Pokemon, in the same way as the last generation did. After all, it’s still a colourful, highly addictive collecting game that appeals to everything children love.

Plus, it’s summer in the Northern hemisphere – it’s no coincidence that a game that requests its users to walk around catching pokemon outdoors was released during a time of long sunny days.

Pricing Structure

Pokemon Go makes money through a freemium pricing model. This style of pricing has been demonstrated to be hugely popular in the app world, wider software development and video gaming. The model is simple and is structured as so:

  1. Offer a free base model of game. This means that uptake is high and the many will at least try the game. Introducing pricing from the get go means that many are put off downloading it in the first place.
  2. Feature areas where people can purchase additional features. In the case of Pokemon Go, players can make in-game purchases of coins (poke gold) – which in turn means that they can buy items within the game.


This freemium model has worked fantastically for Pokemon Go. It’s meant that many users have downloaded the game, played it and its popularity has got it covered extensively in the media. Which in hand has meant that the game has spread even further – establishing itself in this self-propagating cycle.

It joins a list of services that have done very well from the freemium model: LinkedIn, Dropbox and Spotify are just some other examples of success.

As of last week, which may as well be a year in Pokemon Go time – considering how quickly the app has spread, the app was already bringing in $1.5m in revenue per day. A figure that is now much more likely to have risen dramatically since.

It’s not only direct revenue that’s been effected: Nintendo (which has a major stake in Pokemon Go) has experienced an incredible more than doubling of share prices since the launch of the app – to a current level of £32bn.

Poke Future?

What does this set out for the future? Will Pokemon Go fizzle out as fast as it rose to fame? Will colder days mean less play? The future of the game itself lies in the hands of Niantic (its developers, once a Google owned start up) to introduce new features and keep players entertained.

The success of the app has shown that there’s real potential in augmented reality and getting people to interact with their surroundings. It’s paved the way for widespread take up of a previously niche technology and many around the world will now be developing new ways to make money from marketing augmented reality to the masses.

That’s not to say that businesses aren’t already profiting from the success of Pokemon Go. From the people making the, somewhat questionable, career move to become a full time Pokemon trainers to the many cafes and other local businesses that have been agile enough to realise there’s a lot of money to be made from Pokemon Go.

Watch this space!