App Annie: 'Pokémon Go' Made Almost $1B In 2016

Still don't believe 2016 was the year augmented reality (AR) went mainstream? A new report from the App Annie mobile analytics firm shows that Pokémon Go raked in $950 million from players and that people spent almost as much time with the game as the next 19 biggest titles combined.

The report said Pokémon Go took just 110 days to reach $800 million in consumer spend. That's far less time than other popular games, such as Clash of Clans or Candy Crush Saga, and shows that developer Niantic Labs won big after it decided to finally bring Pokémon into the real world. (Kind of.) The game likely brought in even more money thanks to partnerships with other companies to establish all-important "PokéStops" at their places of business.

Niantic used this two-prong approach to great effect. The game was a free download with optional in-app purchases to get more PokéBalls, Pokémon lures, and other consumables. Once it became a hit, businesses tried to cash in on the game's success by paying to have the PokéStops that distribute those in-app purchases for free in their physical locations. Pokémon Go was basically made of equal parts nostalgia, AR, and mobile game design trends.

Turns out that's exactly what people never knew they wanted. App Annie said that people spent almost 7 million hours with the game during its Halloween event--and that's after interest had started to wane. (Pokémon Go is a novel experience that even non-gamers can enjoy, but it lacked the depth or the technical stability to keep many of its players hooked, or at least those who expected the game to act more like its handheld predecessors.)

All of that adds up to a good sign for AR's future. App Annie said in its report:

Pokémon GO’s success has done more to familiarize consumers with the concept of augmented reality (AR) than perhaps any other piece of software (or hardware, for that matter). Importantly for the app space, this familiarization did not take place in living rooms with special AR devices. Instead, it happened in the real world with mobile phones. If this is any indication, the future of AR is in mobile apps.

It's worth noting that this report was published by a company that lives and dies by its ability to quantify and predict mobile app trends. This means it's likely to say the future of AR is in mobile apps while a hardware company might say it's in headsets; it also means that App Annie's in a position to spot things before others. Either way, the numbers show that Pokémon Go is by far the most profitable and popular glimpse at the future of AR to date.

Now, to split some of the hairs on Vulpix's six tails: One could argue as to whether or not Pokémon Go is technically AR. The game doesn't really monitor someone's environment and respond to it; Pokémon hop around in seemingly random patterns whether they're superimposed over Times Square or a pot of boiling water. But it's close enough to the real thing to let people imagine what true AR would be like, and to get them used to the idea of interacting with something that is kinda-sorta-but-not-really in front of them.

So when people immediately grok the appeal of AR experiences in the future, just remember that Pikachu is to thank. Sure, Pokémon Go also inspired a bunch of trespassing and confused the hell out of Nintendo investors, but it's also made it far easier to imagine where AR could go from here.

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