Pokemon Go a tough app to catch

The creators of Angry Birds (left) and other games are now wondering how to give Pokemon Go a run for its money, or whether to even try.
The creators of Angry Birds (above) and other games are now wondering how to give Pokemon Go a run for its money, or whether to even try.

SAN FRANCISCO • Top video game companies, caught off guard by the runaway success of Pokemon Go, are wrestling with how to play catch-up to the augmented reality app that has become a worldwide phenomenon.

Executives at companies from Sony to Angry Birds creator Rovio Entertainment said Pokemon Go would be a tough act to follow, and some even said a challenge would not be worth it.

On mobile devices, players search for and capture cartoon characters from the Pokemon franchise - displayed in the real world, using the live view from a smartphone camera. Pokemon Go has been the most downloaded mobile game since its July release.

Executives said hundreds of game developers at their companies are playing to understand how it has captivated audiences.

Now "is not the right moment to release an (augmented reality) experience", said CEO Neil Young at mobile game developer N3twork, adding: "That moment is sort of reserved, I think, for Pokemon Go."

Some executives said they would not copy the game because it was a fad driven by the Pokemon brand and it lacked social features, such as letting players talk and collaborate on a hunt. The success in getting players onto their feet was seen as brilliant but hard to replicate, and the deft use of mapping technology also sets a high bar.

Analysts calculate the game is set to earn between US$200 million and US$500 million (S$270 million to S$674 million) in revenue in one year. The higher figure would rank it in the top 20 grossing mobile games in history, analysts said.

"We're just sort of scratching the surface of what we're going to see" in augmented reality, said Mr David Haddad, president of Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment. It is in the early stages of developing augmented reality games but has no plans to announce a new title.

Zynga is studying what to do in the space, CEO Frank Gibeau said. "Pokemon has really shown new paths and new ways to grow that's very exciting for customers, players, developers," he said.

Pokemon, partly owned by Nintendo, is celebrating the 20th anniversary of Pokemon games and their menagerie, led by the rabbit- like Pikachu.

That brand power is tough to match, said Mr Richard Marks, senior researcher at Sony Interactive Entertainment.

Some gaming executives do not believe Pokemon Go is the future of gaming. Mobile scavenger hunts require physical activity and could be a hard sell to most video game players. "It's not easy to get people off of their couches," said Mr Wilhelm Taht, executive vice-president of games at Rovio Entertainment.

"The game needs to be more social... where you can have group goals and chat when you hunt," said MySpace creator Chris DeWolfe.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 10, 2016, with the headline 'Pokemon Go a tough app to catch'. Subscribe