Pokémon Go may be a resurgence of the Pokémon craze of the mid-90s. Already, the game has captured the attention of the news and social media. One woman even found a dead body when hunting for Pokémon. Amidst all of the excitement, this game is shaping up to be one of Nintendo’s biggest successes of 2016. The tbt*, a local Tampa newspaper, wrote “The Pokémon craze of the 1990 is back,” and I’m included this to agree. So how big is this phenomenon, and what is causing it?
The New Pokémon Craze
Since the game’s release, it has already become a success. As Reuters reports, the game became the number one free app on the iTunes store after its Wednesday release in the US. Pokémon Go is already more popular than Tinder and Twitter. Pokémon Go is the most popular app exceeding Candy Crush Saga. In Japan, the situation is similar. The app saw 1.3 million downloads in the first three hours of release in Japan.
Investor, too, are ecstatic about the newest Nintendo app. Nintendo’s stock has seen a massive resurgence since the release of Pokémon Go. Nintendo’s stock rose 8.94 percent on July 8th 2016. The rally did not stop there and has continued over the past several days. Polygon reported that on Friday July 15th that Nintendo’s stock became on of the most traded stock of this century based on market value. Over the last month, Nintendo’s stock rose from 13,865 yen to 22,820 yen, a whooping 65 percent increase. Nintendo has stated that Pokémon Go will not have a significant impact on the company’s earnings (mostly due to the accounting for Nintendo’s ownership in the Pokémon Company, but it has had a significant effect on the company’s market value. Nintendo is now worth more than Sony.
The Cause of the Phenomenon
So why is Pokémon Go such a hit? In my opinion, there are three key factors why this game is so successful: The handheld medium, the strength of the Pokémon brand, and the social nature of the game.
First, mobile devices are a natural fit for the series. Pokémon was born on the GameBoy back in the mid-90s. Pokémon was a game you carried in you bag or your back pocket and could whip it out at anytime for a brief session. Pokémon Go is no different. Just take out the app and you can see if any Pokémon are nearby or if there is a Pokémon Spot nearby. Moreover, it doesn’t interfere with your daily life, but enhances it. One man, who weighed roughly 500 pounds, found himself walking about six miles in one day just to catch Pokémon. He told the Daily Dot that he thinks the app will help make people more active. The responses to his story (on Imgur) were similar with other overweight individuals doing the same: improving themselves to capture digital creatures.
Which brings me to my second point. Why would someone walk six miles to capture imaginary, digital creatures? It is because of the strength of the Pokémon brand. The original Pokémon was a worldwide phenomenon when it first released to the world. Despite interest in Pokémon on the decline, the most recent entry Pokémon X/Y sold 14.70 million and is the best selling 3DS game. Furthermore, The series has sold 280 million software units and has a market size of 4.8 trillion yen.
Even with a decline in the sales of the mainline Pokémon games, Pokémon Go is one of the most popular apps ever release. This is because Pokémon Go is being played by lapse Pokémon fans. Many of the people playing Pokémon Go are people who played Pokémon Red/Blue in the 90s. Now they are back with the new game. This is evident as 40 percent of users are between 25 and 34 years old. Why fans left and why they came back is another question in of itself. Perhaps the best explanation is that, over the years, many saw that playing handheld devices was for children. The Game Boy Advance was seen somewhat as a kid’s device. Likewise, the Pokémon series may be falling into the same trap as Gamefreak has made the games easier and easier. Pokémon X/Y gave you an experience share that makes your Pokémon vastly out level the enemy, and trainers rarely had more than four Pokémon.
But perhaps the biggest reason for the game’s success is the social aspects. Video games are a social activity. Word-of-mouth remains the biggest influence on game purchases. As a result, it’s no surprise that as more players organize meet-ups and crown local parks and venues that more potential trainers will give the game a shot. Although mobile games usually have social elements, they have not integrated the social elements in the same way Pokémon Go has.
In order to best describe Pokémon Go’s social impact, consider this personal experiences I had playing the game. In order to branch out, I took a trip to a mall outside of the city. There weren’t many Pokestops in the town, but there was a cluster of them in the mall. There were Pokelures on all 4 of the spots, and the place was crawling with folks on their cell phones trying to get a piece of the action. But it wasn’t just players looking mindlessly on their phone. People would say hi, ask what team you’re on and inquire about the Pokémon in the area. It was a spontaneous gathering of fans that could not be replicated anywhere else. The food court even had a gym that was hotly contested. When I tried to claim it for Mystic, I actually had the help of another player with his Snorlax. I didn’t get to meet the player, but was able to chat about the madness that was that gym with others.
The game does what no other game has done up until this point which is foster normal interaction and communication. When you meet someone on a phone, there’s a high probability they are playing Pokémon Go. Additionally, players can chose from one of three teams: Valor, Mystic and Instinct. The team are akin to sports teams. Now, instead of fighting over Florida State University and University of Florida, Pokémon Go players argue about what team is the best. When interacting with other players, the question always comes up: which team are you on. It gives people something to bond over, or squabble over. Moreover, Pokemon Go has spawned pub crawls and even dating site dedicated to bring people together through Pokemon Go. The games ability to bring people together is paramount to its success.
Is This Game Really A Fad?
So it’s clear the Pokémon Go is wildly successful, but some are claiming that it’s all just a fad. Japan Today claimed interest in the game would wane due to the simplistic gameplay and the negative publicity the game has received. However, I wholeheartedly disagree.
One prevailing trend in video games is that while single player games may decline with each game release, multiplayer games tend to improve. Consider the Super Smash Bros series. Sales of each game increased up through Super Smash Bros. Brawl (as shown here) and Super Smash Bros for Wii U and 3DS have sold about 13 million units . Generally, multiplayer series grow and maintain their popularity.
And the reason Pokémon Go is not just a flash in the pan is because it is a social game. As mentioned above Pokémon Go is incredibly social. Additionally, the developers, Niantic Inc, is planning to add more social features such as trading and battling. If anything, I believe that the game will be more popular in the near future, not less.
Of course, the talk of fads is nothing new for Pokémon. When the original games launched in the late 90s, everyone assumed it was a fad. Sales of the Pokémon game have declined over the year. Nevertheless, the mainline games have routiunely sold over 10 million copies, and (as mentioned above) Pokémon X and Y have sold 14.7 million units and is the best selling first party title on the 3DS. There are few games that can consistently sell over 10 million units, yet Pokémon can. In truth, Pokemon really died out as so many other fad had. The series has been able to maintain its success for 20 years. Likewise, even though interest in Pokemon Go may tapper off, the game will likely not fizzle out as so many think it will.
Pokémon has been going strong for 20 years and it looks like it will continue for another 20. If anything, Pokémon Go shows how strong the series still issue as it has taken over almost every other app. But perhaps one of the biggest reasons for the app’s success is its social nature. Of course, this is likely one reason the series has continued for so long. I think we’ll be capturing Pokémon on our phones, 3DSs and whatever else for quite a while.