It has been a big year for the Pokemon Company, the entity founded by Nintendo, Game Freak, and Creatures back in 1998 to manage to suddenly successful Pokemon franchise. Nintendo is the senior partner in that group, and is the one that owns the trademark on Pokemon, so people generally just refer to Nintendo, but there are actually multiple entities which I will mention in this paragraph and then go back to ignoring as usual.
Anyway, 2016 has been a big year.
To start with, the Pokemon franchise celebrated its 20th anniversary back in February.
As part of that that celebration there have been legendary Pokemon download events every month, often accompanied by additional Pokemon download opportunities, mostly covered at the official Pokemon20 web site, which I have blogged about here. They even released versions of the original Pokemon games for the Virtual Console on the Nintendo 3DS hardware.
In addition to that going on, there are the Pokemon World Championships, the culmination of events around the world, here in San Francisco this weekend.
On top of that, there is new Pokemon game coming out for the 3DS this November, the next in line in the venerable core Pokemon RPG line of games. You would have a tough time convincing me that a good chunk of Nintendo 3DS sales are not related to the fact that it is the platform where the main line of Pokemon games, from which everything else in the franchise stems, is released. Not when 1 in 4 3DS owners bought a copy of Pokemon X & Y.
So a new Pokemon game is always a boon.
Pokemon Sun & Moon coming out this November! And that has meant the usual slow drip of news and updates about the title as the date approaches.
All of which adds up to a pretty big year for Pokemon. Nintendo has even been pushing some of the other titles in the franchise on the Nintendo Store as party of the anniversary events.
There you can find the main RPG titles that are available on the 3DS (however, all the DS titles are no longer available despite the 3DS having support to play them) as well as spin offs like Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, Pokemon Ranger, and… Pokemon Pinball… okay.
And in the midst of all of this Pokemon frenzy there dropped Pokemon GO.
And since it hit the App Store back on July 6th, you can barely hear any of the over the roar of Pokemon GO hype.
I follow six general gaming news sites in my RSS feed, and Pokemon GO has been a headline item on at least one of them… on occasionally all of them… every single day since it launched. I think Massively OP, which is an MMO site, had a two week string of headlines about the game, though they got Raph Koster’s blessing when he declared it an MMO I guess. I was writing about it being a phenomena after the first weekend, and nothing I have seen since would convince me it has been anything less than this summer’s runaway hit game.
Just yesterday Guinness announced that Pokemon GO had broken five records:
- Most revenue grossed by a mobile game in its first month,
- Most downloaded mobile game in its first month,
- Most international charts topped simultaneously for a mobile game in its first month in terms of revenue
- Most international charts topped simultaneously for a mobile game in its first month in terms of downloads and revenue
- Fastest time to gross $100 million by a mobile game.
And, in that environment of Pokemon GO fever, I started wondering what this meant for the franchise. With a Pokemon game available on iOS and Android, the potential audience is huge. I like the 3DS hardware, and it has been a decent seller, moving nearly 60 million units as of June 30th of this year, but Apple has sold that many iPhones in a single quarter on a couple occasions, including the first quarter of 2016. And that doesn’t even start to count Android sales. So There are a lot of devices out there that can play Pokemon GO.
But the game people are getting when they download Pokemon GO is, at best, a shadow of the experience that is the mainline Pokemon RPG. There is the “Gotta Catch ’em All!” aspect to it, and some form of gym battles present in the game. But there is no trading… a key founding concept for the game… no head to head battles, no breeding, no story, and only some vague goals beyond collecting.
Add in server problems, bugs, security concerns, battery life issues, controversies over features and changes, the sporadic presence of Pokestops and Pokemon, cheating, and the inevitable backlash that shows up when anything becomes popular, and I started to wonder whether or not this would be a good thing for the franchise.
Would Pokemon GO serve as an introduction to the franchise or would people walk away from the whole thing after the somewhat shallow experience that Pokemon GO can provide?
We are finally getting some early indications of what effect Pokemon GO will have. Several sites are reporting NPD’s July 2016 hardware sales results which indicate that Nintendo 3DS sales have gone up considerably, with the 3DS outselling the XBox One which added a new model to its lineup. Additionally, Pokemon titles for the platform, specifically Pokemon X & Y and Pokemon Alpha Ruby and Omega Sapphire also saw a significant spike in sales in July. (Sources: Game Informer, Perfectly Nintendo)
So the initial reaction to Pokemon GO, as far as the overall Pokemon franchise goes, seems to be good. Pokemon GO seems to more than just a passing fancy and is actually raising awareness of the whole Pokemon game ecosystem. We shall see if that holds until November and the launch of Pokemon Sun & Moon. If it does, those two titles might themselves set a record for the franchise.