We don’t actually know how many people have downloaded Pokémon Go for iOS or Android, although Apple has confirmed that the game is breaking records. Some reports are saying over 100 million people have downloaded the game and, as of this writing, it’s still the top-grossing app for iOS. Much has been written about the game’s mainstream success, and that’s where the problem comes in when we try to figure out what the players are thinking, or feeling.
That last update caused controversy by killing third-party tracking sites while at the same time removing the "footsteps" functionality so it’s impossible to know if you’re moving closer to a specific Pokémon. The players, by all reports, are angry at both these changes, and some have asked for a refund of their in-app purchases. The internet is filled with reports that the backlash has begun, wondering if this is the beginning of the end for the popular game.
It’s important to note that we have no idea how anyone feels about the game, or its most recent changes. We think angry posts on Reddit are some indication, but there are only 760,192 subscribers to the Pokémon Go subreddit at the moment. That’s not nothing, but it’s also not even a large minority of users when compared to the size of the player base as a whole. Of those players, not everyone has asked for refunds, and it’s unclear how many players have left the game entirely.
Only 21,103 users have left a rating for the game as of this writing, with an overall rating of 1.5 stars on the iOS store. That may seem dire, but it’s again worth nothing that it’s a tiny number of relative users who seem to be mostly driven by anger. The vast majority of the App Store reviews are one-star. Here’s how it breaks down:
I've written in the past about how silly it can be to judge fan reception based on the amount of downvotes something receives, and a one-star review of this kind is more or less a downvote. But still, not many people have rated the app at all, and of those that did the vast majority are reacting with a sort of passionate anger.
Which, as we know, is as much of an indication of engagement as passion. The players who gave the app a single star care very deeply about the game and how it's being changed. They likely don't want to hurt the game as much as they want to be heard.
Niantic, the game's developer, has been more or less silent about these issues until this morning. Many of the game's fans who are posting so vigorously online would likely calm down a bit if they felt heard, and the developer's inability to communicate effectively with the players is a failing that can be just as frustrating as the game's technical flaws.
But the reality is that we have no idea if there has been any kind of impact on the game's bottom line, the number of players or how much money each player is spending on the game. It's very possible that the daily revenue from the app has remained steady since the last patches, or even grown.
Or it could be cratering and this is the beginning of the end. But comments on stories like this and posts on communities like Reddit aren't always, or even usually, representative of the larger whole. Pokémon Go is such a big deal partly due to its mainstream success, and the mainstream doesn't post its anger online. A quick, anecdotal polling of my real-world friends who play the game revealed most of them were barely aware of the changes, and none of them were angry.
Tech and gaming writers are using the only data we have to try to determine the temperature of people's love for or anger at the game, but we're trying to get a picture of the whole ecosystem using a very limited lens. The vast majority of players, and their behavior, are completely invisible to us.
The only people who truly know if the players are changing how they interact with the game work at Niantic, and they're not talking.