The rise and not-quite-fall of Pokemon Go

App tracking companies say the game peaked early, but it's still crazy popular.

Sean Hollister Senior Editor / Reviews
When his parents denied him a Super NES, he got mad. When they traded a prize Sega Genesis for a 2400 baud modem, he got even. Years of Internet shareware, eBay'd possessions and video game testing jobs after that, he joined Engadget. He helped found The Verge, and later served as Gizmodo's reviews editor. When he's not madly testing laptops, apps, virtual reality experiences, and whatever new gadget will supposedly change the world, he likes to kick back with some games, a good Nerf blaster, and a bottle of Tejava.
Sean Hollister
3 min read

You don't play Pokemon Go anymore. Neither do your friends. Neither does practically anyone you know. You haven't seen anyone playing it in the park, or on the street, for months. 

Clearly it's a fad, right?


I thought that, too -- until I asked two major app tracking companies to paint me a better picture.

According to Apptopia and App Annie, Pokemon Go did indeed plummet after its launch, one year ago today. And yet, it's still a billion-dollar business -- with a B -- with tens of millions likely using it every day. 

Not quite what it used to be

Because both Apptopia and App Annie base their numbers on their own sources and complex estimation models rather than getting them directly from Pokemon Go's creators, the two firms don't always agree.

Pokemon Go, in case you're somehow unaware, is about catching tiny cute monsters that have mysteriously appeared in the real world.

GIF by Sean Hollister/CNET

For instance, Apptopia says Pokémon Go peaked at 100 million users worldwide -- while App Annie says a staggering 380 million were playing the game at its peak. (That's 1 out of every 20 people in the world, or more than the entire population of the United States.)

Both companies agree on when Pokémon Go reached the height of its popularity, though: August 2016, only one month after launch. 

(By August, it'd launched in Latin America and most Pacific island nations, as well as North America, Europe, Australia, Japan and Hong Kong.) 

Either way, those estimated 100+ million users didn't all stick around: In April, Niantic publicly announced that only65 million people were playing the game each month. Apptopia estimates that number has fallen to 60 million as of June 2017, and that only 20 percent of them (12 million people) play the game every day.

Some perspective

But let's put that in perspective: 60 million monthly users is an enormous number. It would easily make Pokemon Go one of the most popular games in existence. As I wrote this morning:

Uber has only 40 million monthly active users. All of Blizzard's hit games -- World of Warcraft, Overwatch, Hearthstone, Diablo, StarCraft and all the rest -- only add up to 41 million monthly users combined

You have to look at the most popular games in the world, like League of Legends (100 million), or apps as popular as Pandora (77 million) and Spotify (140 million) to understand Pokemon Go's sheer scale.

App Annie says that, if you're counting monthly active users, Pokemon Go was still the No. 1 mobile game (beating out Candy Crush) in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, Mexico, Taiwan and Thailand as of this May. 

To quote Pokemon Go CEO John Hanke, also from my interview this morning: "That sort of...pop culture awareness goal passed, and then the really successful game phase kicked in."    

One more reference point: PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds is considered an out-of-nowhere PC smash hit with just four million in sales over the past three months.

Follow the money

But why take our word for Pokemon Go's popularity, when there's evidence you can see with your own eyes? 

Just go to your app store of choice, and look for the Top Grossing apps (Google Play, iTunes App Store via App Annie), and find Pokemon Go on the list. As of today, it's still well within the top 20 in each store, meaning it's pulling in money hand over fist.

Both Apptopia and App Annie agree that Pokemon Go has now raked in over US $1.2 billion in worldwide revenue -- much of it well after downloads and user growth had peaked. 

Turns out plenty of people still want to be the very best, like no one ever was, and they'll pay handsomely for in-game items. Who knew?

Pokemon Go turns one: an interview with CEO John Hanke

Ingress, the friendliest turf war on earth: A look at the Pokemon Go team's previous game.