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Has Pokémon Go's heyday come and gone?

Though the game is still extremely popular, analysts say maintaining current levels of engagement will be a challenge in the coming months and years. 

Sam Mircovich/Illustration/Reuters/File
The augmented reality mobile game "Pokemon Go" by Nintendo is shown on a smartphone screen in this photo illustration taken in Palm Springs, California U.S. July 11, 2016.

Has Pokémon Go come and gone?

Data from SurveyMonkey Intelligence suggests that the massively popular game has already peaked in the US: The number of users active each day, the app’s daily download rates, and Google search activity around the term “Pokémon Go” are all on the decline. 

While the game is still unprecedentedly ubiquitous, with approximately six percent of all Americans playing on any given day, some industry analysts have questioned just how sustainable Pokémon Go’s popularity really is. 

There are a number of factors in the game's favor: a deeply-ingrained cultural fondness and nostalgia for Pokémon, leveled game play to keep players focused on small achievements, and its unconventional augmented-reality premise, to name a few. 

The social potential of the game, which requires players to get out of the house and walk around their neighborhoods, is also considered an important strength. 

"Video games have always come with some related anxiety that they encourage withdrawal from the 'real world,' a sedentary lifestyle, and anti-sociality," writes Andrew Breiner for Salon. "The fact that Pokemon Go has an answer to those fears has surely helped its popularity." 

At the same time, others say, the app's active nature could cause players to more quickly tire of wandering the streets in search of Pokémon.

"While that’s part of what makes the game novel and appealing at the moment, it’s easy to see how the charm might wear off over time," says James Surowiecki in a column for The New Yorker. "Pokémon Go is also the rare video game whose economic success will be determined in part by the weather. It’s a great summertime game, but will anyone bundle up to go Pikachu-hunting when winter rolls around?" 

It's common for mobile and video games to enjoy a moment in the sun before their popularity wanes. Some, of course, have been able to maintain high usage levels even when they are no longer in the spotlight. But the games that retain players even after the trend dies, such as Tetris or "match three"-style games like Candy Crush or Bejeweled, "tend to work on our brains in a different way," points out industry analyst Dan Porter in a LinkedIn essay. 

"Anyone who has ever dreamed about matching falling blocks can understand that matching and tidying up are psychological twists that cause both pleasure and repeated game play," Mr. Porter writes. "Pokémon Go is exhilarating, but lacks this human compulsion (although it does have collecting, another core compulsion)."

Another challenge for Pokémon Go could, ironically, be overcoming its own popularity. After the app's explosion onto the mobile scene, with nearly six million downloads on the day it was released and 25 million daily players just one week after its debut, "it's likely the trend can only go down from here," writes Christopher Groux for International Business Times.

"Even the slightest drop in activity over the next few months could easily create the perception that the concept is losing traction," he continues. "Once that doubt takes hold, audiences may become less interested." 

Yet, as SurveyMonkey points out in its analysis, this is only the beginning for Pokémon Go: "As we’ve seen from other games there’s still every chance that the game attracts millions of users (and makes millions of dollars) for months, and even years to come." 

And while we may start to see the end of the Pokémon Go craze in the US, in other parts of the world it hasn't even begun yet: Some countries are still waiting to start catching them all. 

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