It’s been a little more than a year since adults, teenagers and children alike swarmed the streets and began spending time outside, interacting with others and exploring new areas – all while looking at their phone.
The phenomenon was caused by the release of Niantic’s augmented reality app known as “Pokemon Go,” which allows players to use their real-life location to find and capture virtual creatures.
Within a week after its initial release, 7.5 million people in the United States had downloaded the app on iOS and Android, according to Paul Tassi, a contributor to Forbes.
“It was crazy,” said Colter Christensen, a senior in theater. “Campus was super packed, everyone was by the (Taggart Student Center) in the middle of the night because you couldn’t get a decent connection during the day and like students would order pizza. It was a huge party every night and it was a blast.”
Shortly after “Pokemon Go’s” launch, Christensen went on a study abroad several countries in Europe.
“People were still just as excited and like, looking for new things to find, wanting to help each other out, looking for all the rare Pokemon, getting excited when there was a Charizard nearby and stuff,” he said.
After the first month, usership declined drastically.
It wasn’t as much fun to play, Christensen said, because the tracking system was broken and third-party systems created to help trainers find Pokemon were quickly shut down.
Recent Utah State University graduate Serena Cummings said it became boring when there was nothing much more to do than walk around catching pidgeys or snubulls.
“I really like their latest update with the raid battles and gym updates,” she said. “It’s made it more interesting, you can actually catch those rare Pokemon that you otherwise wouldn’t see, so it’s got a lot of people back into it again.”
Christensen agreed. The introduction of the buddy walking system and second generation Pokemon also helped maintain user interest.
In addition to the new interface updates, Niantic also hosted a series of events throughout the year that increased the frequency of different Pokemon types. This allowed players to find Pokemon they wouldn’t normally see in their regional area.
“That makes it a little more interesting, so that’s kind of why we’re more active is when there’s something special going on,” Cummings said.
Other issues that contributed to the user decline includes the drain on battery life and data, said Adam Ustach, a recent USU graduate.
There was also the store which allowed players to use real world money to buy virtual supplies and upgrades such as Poke balls, eggs, incense and more. Players could succeed without paying money by earning coins in gyms, but it was difficult and limited the game options, Ustach said.
Despite the various issues the game has faced since it was released, “Pokemon Go” is still thriving with 65 million monthly active users, according to Niantic’s CEO John Hanke at the London Games Festival in April.
“It’s what we wanted to do when we were little kids,” said Callyn Ustach, a recent USU graduate and Adam’s wife. “You always wanted to catch the Pokemon and it’s a good excuse to get outside.”
Though the number of players has dwindled in size, the community is still active, especially after the latest update to the game which allows people to work together to defeat and capture high-level Pokemon in raid battles.
“The other day we were at Federico’s and some dude asked us, ‘Hey are you playing? Are you trying to defeat this raid?’ and we all worked together,” Adam said.
During another raid at Herm’s, there were 12 people from different teams working together to take down a Pokemon, Callyn said.
To coordinate groups and share raid locations, Cummings said she uses a variety of apps to stay up to date. These include Facebook, Discord, and Slack.
“There’ll be like level four raids that you can’t take down unless you have at least eight people,” she said, “so it helps to be like ‘hey there’s a four-raid going on at this time, anyone going to join?’ and it’s easy to get a group of people you’ve never met before and take down a Pokemon with you.”
With the new updates, Pokemon events and more features to be added in the future, Christensen hopes to see more people playing again.
“I just want a resurgence, kind of like the first month,” he said. “I wish that people would just get out and interact with each other again. The game is a lot better now than it was, and it’s even better to play with friends.”