Nintendo just won … the internet, the game, the prize whatever you want to call it, they just won it by more than a country mile. How the heck did we get here and what does it mean?
Before Pokémon Go released a few days ago, you would have been right to write off Nintendo to an eventual demise. I’ve personally been concerned that they are living in the shadows made by Sony and Microsoft. Even with the success of the Wii and DS, the exploding mobile market had been leaving them far behind. Add in the missteps with the Wii U and it looked like a recipe for disaster.
You also wouldn’t have been faulted for being uneasy about a AR game being made by a non-Nintendo studio. Especially one based off one of their most popular titles. Despite being an easy cash cow, Pokémon hasn’t had the pull like it original did. When Pokémon went supernova back in the 90’s, many of the people who loved it were still in a numbered grade school of some sort.
So what did we miss? How did this game garner so much success?
Remember This Google Joke
Yes, it was a April Fool’s Joke, but it stirred up a ton of conversation. Getting an idea out into the public consciousness can do a bunch for later releases. That’s exactly what this joke did, it made us want something we never thought we would get. An open world version of Pokémon has been something we clamored for, but this small proof of concept was enough to get the ball rolling. Not to mention that Google has been attached to the development of this property from the get go.
Niantic Has The Chops
If you didn’t understand that last comment, it’s probably because you didn’t know they started out as a Google Lab before it rolled out into it’s own company. John Hanke, CEO of Niantic has had a deep history with Google. He was previously the CEO of Keyhole, a geospatial visualization company bought by Google in 2004 who would be responsible for creating Google Earth. These developments also lead to the development of Google Maps, Google Mobile apps, and the KML format. They have had a long history in the GIS field and that was the backbone for making this a successful game. Also, server issues aside (They probably didn’t predict this much volume), this isn’t their first rodeo. Niantic is also behind the massively successful AR game, Ingress, the location based game that pits faction against faction for control. We’ve also learned that much of the collected GIS data from Ingress and their user suggestions helped create the gyms and Poké Stops in this new game. This game was certainly created by the right team; I feel pretty confidence they will keep crafted a strong gamer experience.
The Original Generation Came Back
One glaring positive I saw from the start: It’s only 150 Pokémon (maybe they added Mew, I have no idea currently). I’m not saying it will be easy to get all 150, but it’s manageable goal to start with. Rather than forcing players to slug through the ever growing list of Pokémon (which gets bigger this fall with Moon and Sun), they have made it more accessible to the mainstream audience by focusing on a smaller number. This generation is arguably the most recognizable and popular of the series so fans would quickly latch on.
Not to mention, they kept it simple stupid. The combat system may get more complicated with new versions, but for right now, it’s only contained to the gyms. Catching Pokémon is fairly simple and intuitive. If you don’t want to spend currency to make yourself better, the only thing you need to do is walk and find locations. While it’s not convenient for someone riding an airplane, you can always bust out a Nintendo 3DS if you want to play that badly. It’s not meant to be played everywhere, but where it is being played has lead to some interesting interactions…
The Immediate Social Phenomenon
People are outside!! The insane number of people walking and catching Pokémon is staggering.While others argue about the few silly or irresponsible players, most Pokémon champs in training have been respectful of boundaries and are playing within the rules. It’s been cool to walk up and chat with other players, trading advice and tips.
Around the Pokémon Gyms, teams have quickly coalesced, battle lines have been drawn, and the smack talk has been raging since the game began. I’ve already seen a bunch of turnover at some gyms while others have began to gain notoriety for the Pokémon contained within.The coolest thing I’ve seen so far has been a family of four taking over a gym in their neighborhood. They told me that other families on the block had better join them or expect no mercy … holy mackerel.
Not to mention, this is the one game where an unhealthy obsession could be beneficial to your overall health. Would parents really be concerned if their children spent hours running around the neighborhood catching Pokémon? Sure, you can cheat by doing some of this with your car or paying for different items, but I wouldn’t be surprised if childhood obesity rates plummet because of this game, they will have to consider nominating this game for a Peace Prize.
The “Other” Original Generation Came Back
Along with the large masses of people head out to catch Pokémon, another thing happened secretly: The 90’s kids came back. Many of whom haven’t played since the original series was first released have jumped into the fray. We knew that current Pokémon lovers would be excited to jump into the game. However, if you told me this many adults were going to be out and about playing Pokémon, I would have called you a liar. When you think about it, it makes plenty of sense. Who wouldn’t want to reconnect with a game from your youth, especially when all you need to do is download it? Add in the emergence and acceptance of nerd culture that has occurred over the past two decades, it’s really not weird to play Pokémon anymore.
The Dreaded Micro Transaction?
Freeware games have to make money somewhere and Pokémon Go is no exception. The game is making as estimated 1.6 Million dollars in micro transactions a day (Sensor Tower) … Wow. That’s the kind of sales that have investors drooling and foaming around the mouth. (That’s more than enough money to put my imaginary children [Bobby Jr. and Marcus Aurelius] through imaginary college and have more than enough to retire on). That’s also led to Nintendo earning $7 Billion in value essentially over night. Investors are flipping out because a flip of that magnitude just doesn’t happen; it’s a definite rarity.
This is also the reason many have wanted Nintendo to create offerings for other mobile devices. For every great mobile game, there’s at least 20 terrible properties that make the whole thing feel cheap. Add in Nintendo’s long history of solid property management and they would start dominating the mobile space. Do you think anyone is going to be really interested in Schwarzenegger Bombs (I think it’s technically called Mobile Strike, but I don’t actually care) once you can play a real Zelda game on your phone? Many have already been doing this with ROM’s; now you could have better access to newer offerings with their properties.
It remains to be seen how Nintendo and Niantic will run with this success. But they are created something pretty special and has the power to shift the mobile gaming landscape and beyond.