Over the past few months, something unusual has been happening at the street corner just down from my apartment, on the way to the station. Almost every evening, at least when the weather is fine, there's a little gathering; largely silent, but lit up with the ubiquitous glow of smartphone screens and the occasional flare of a lighting cigarette.
There's a slight air of the illicit about it - sometimes I wonder what the uninitiated make of the whole affair - but once you know what to look for, it's perfectly obvious what's happening. There's a Pokemon Gym on that corner (conveniently next to a cigarette machine, which I suspect contributes to the popularity of this specific spot), and over the summer months, in spite of the oppressive Tokyo heat, it's been attracting a cadre of die-hard fans again for the first time in quite a while.
"The great failing of Pokemon Go at launch was that it was outright terrible at player retention"
This is not a phenomenon confined to a single street corner. Pokemon Go hotspots in busy parts of the city seem more crowded in the evenings than they have been at any point since the slightly crazy weeks following the game's launch. On a more personal level, friends have been getting back into the game and encouraging others on social media to add them to its new friend link system. Within my own sphere, there's a level of interest around Pokemon Go that hasn't been apparent for quite some time - so it came as no surprise when developers Niantic announced this week that there has been a 35% uplift in active users of the game since May of this year. That's an especially dramatic number given that Pokemon Go has never actually been unpopular, as such; it's maintained its position as a mainstay of mobile gaming since launch, so a boost on that level represents a pretty huge number of players engaging, or re-engaging, with the game.
There are a number of different factors in play here, perhaps the most obvious being the work that Niantic has put into overhauling and extending the game. The great failing of Pokemon Go at launch was that it was outright terrible at player retention; it was fun and interesting for a fixed amount of time but then lacked sufficient compelling reasons for players to keep coming back. The addition of significant social features like gifts and Pokemon trading, along with raids and other features at gyms, has gone a long way to making Pokemon Go into a game people actually want to come back and try again.