Just over a month ago, I made a bet with a venture capitalist that Pokémon Go was a fad. I predicted it would begin falling in the app charts within the month.
My rationale was that we’ve seen viral fad apps come and go many times before. (To name a few: Chatroulette, Highlight, Secret, Frontback, Meerkat, Ello, Yo, Stolen, Peach.) What’s more, they seem to come and go with increasing velocity. Years ago, a viral hit might have six months to ride its trendiness. Now you get a week. We cycle through fads faster than ever.
It appears that I have lost that bet. Pokémon Go remains atop App Annie’s rankings for downloads in the Google Play Store in most geographies. In the App Store, it has just begun to fall from its spot as the No. 1 overall app in the last day or so.
The sustained dominance of the game proves that there is hope for consumer Internet startups, even though it feels like funding them has gone totally out of vogue (alongside e-commerce and, in short order, digital media).
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It makes sense that investors are wary of the category. How can a new app compete for attention with Facebook, which alongside Instagram, commands 50 minutes of its users’ time per day? And we know the App Store stats: Around 90% of the 1.6 million App Store apps are essentially un-discoverable. A full 94% of revenue in Apple’s App Store comes from just 1% of all publishers.
Pokémon Go proves it’s possible to break out, and if your app is good enough, you’ll have a month or so to try to turn it into a business. But there’s also the danger of being too good. When I made my losing bet, I had another prediction that might prove to be true: When people abandon Pokémon Go, it’ll be because it was too engaging. Like Turntable.fm, the game requires your full attention, and a lot of it. It’s great for hardcore fans, but casual players won’t stick around for long.