Mobile AR Gaming Levels Up

Niantic’s Pokémon Go, the first hit augmented-reality mobile game, came out in July 2016. More than three years later, the game was still generating $1.4 billion in annual revenue, as of December 2019, according to SuperData. In fact, the title single-handedly drove 81% of the $1.7 billion in total revenues for all AR mobile games together that year. It also ranked number six on the bestseller list of free mobile games, AR and otherwise, in 2019. Pokémon Go is produced under license from Nintendo.

Not surprisingly, game makers have been looking for “the next Pokémon Go,” and the titles that have attracted the most attention and highest hopes have been those attached to licensed IP. While it took almost two years from the launch of Pokémon Go until potential rivals came on the market, there have been a number of high-profile launches since March 2018, many based on existing entertainment properties:

  • Most recently, Minecraft Earth launched in the U.S. as an early-access version in November 2019, after a few months in beta. (This is not a licensed product, since Microsoft’s Mojang, Minecraft’s owner, markets it, but it is based on a property that is available for licensing.)
  • Harry Potter Wizards Unite was released in June 2019. Like Pokémon Go, Niantic is the licensee, in this case under license from Warner Bros.
  • Ghostbusters World, with rights granted by Sony Pictures Consumer Products to Four Thirty Three, was introduced in October 2018.
  • The Walking Dead: Our World, from Next Games, debuted in July 2018. The show is licensed by AMC.
  • Jurassic World Alive, licensed by Universal Brand Development, came on the market in March 2018. Ludia is the licensee.

None of these have come close to Pokémon Go’s level of success, at least not yet. Minecraft Earth has shown promising results in its early days, however, with 1.2 million downloads in the first week and 2.5 million in less than a month.

Pokémon Go’s still-high sales levels and long lifespan, much beyond what many experts expected when it became such a notable hit back in 2016, is likely due to a number of factors. It appeals to a global audience that includes a wide age range and both genders, it gets players out of the house, its design lends itself to awareness-boosting promotional partnerships, and it has had a number of upgrades over time that players have embraced.

There are other, non-licensed AR mobile games that have been well-reviewed and have sold fairly well. But most eyes are on the licensed titles as the mobile gaming industry continues to wait for the next big augmented-reality hit.

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