Pokemon Go has been released and it’s officially one of the fastest growing and most successful mobile game apps within its first week. What are the reasons for this success and what it might mean for Nintendo in the future?
Pokemon Go: An App Whose Time has Come
Despite some frankly middling reviews, Pokemon Go has millions of active users in the U.S. It has ascended to the top of the “Top Grossing” and “Free” charts on the App store. It saw its average daily usage of the app on Android devices exceed Snapchat, Tinder, Instagram, and Facebook.
There seem to be two reasons for this success. Firstly, Pokemon Go realizes like no game before it the dream of actually catching Pokemon. Part of the fantasy of Pokemon has always been average people catching fantastical creatures in everyday environments. Now, players can realize that by catching Pokemon in their neighborhood. It’s the most natural combination of AR and an established game premise one could think of.
Secondly, this has spontaneously resulted in a massive outpouring of enthusiasm and real-world communication between people looking to ‘catch ’em all’ in this new app. If anyone who’s lived in an area where the app has come out, has no doubt either seen someone playing it or encountered someone they know posting about it online. It has served as a social icebreaker and a reason to get out of the house – it’s all the the sort of marketing you can’t purchase.
Difficultly in Replication
While Pokemon Go is a combination of features that compliment the mobile AR experience perfectly, none of Nintendo’s other major franchises do this. Would a Super Mario Go have players literally jumping through virtual obstacles or a Legend of Zelda Go have players finding virtual items to solve virtual puzzles? It’s possible, but it would be more of a challenge to design and doesn’t fit quite as perfectly with the abstract concept. Besides, the appeal of those franchises is not really in the first person, rather seeing those feats done by an on-screen avatar. It would also be harder to design, as Pokemon Go relies on somewhat randomly generated events that don’t compliment other Nintendo franchises as much. Most of Nintendo’s franchises are more directly active than Pokemon, which is at its heart a turn-based RPG, so other “Go” versions might require something like a VR headset to truly realize.
Of course, it isn’t as simple as having the developers of Pokemon Go work on other Nintendo franchises. While Pokemon is often regarded as being a Nintendo franchise, the reality is more complicated than that. Pokemon is owned by an entity known as The Pokemon Company which markets and licenses Pokemon merchandise, card games, and video games. The Pokemon Company is a joint venture between Nintendo, Game Freak, and Creatures, meaning that Nintendo only owns a third of it. Pokemon Go was developed directly for The Pokemon Company by Niantic, Inc. which is a San Francisco based developer whose previous titles include Ingress.
Still, this is a great test to see what sort of appeal a franchise associated with Nintendo would have in the mobile space. Miitomo hinted that there might be huge demand, and that was less of a game and more of a social networking app and it still saw over 10 million downloads. Stockholders clearly love this move towards mobile, raising Nintendo’s stock by as much as 50 percent.
A Hint at the NX?
What’s definitively known about the NX is almost nothing at this point. It is known that it will release in March 2017 and it has been confirmed that NX will have The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild as a launch title. Besides that, there’s been wide ranging speculation and leaked information that have given the public at large a general idea of the form it will likely take. Reports state the NX will be based on the Android OS and will probably function as both a portable and a home console, whether that’s via an advanced docking solution or streaming directly to a TV. Nintendo has had AR offerings for years – the 3DS launched with AR games pre-installed. It seems logical that whatever the NX ends up being that it will end up having AR features, since it’d be almost unthinkable for it to ship something portable without a built in camera.
Uniting the home and portable units of Nintendo simply makes logical business sense, as Nintendo would no longer have to split its focus with making exclusive titles for two systems. Instead, consumers will be able to buy games for THE Nintendo system on the market, making the device easier to market and sell. There’d be no question over what games were coming to particular devices and Nintendo would only have to market and sell a singular device.
Despite generally being believed to be based around the Android OS and being heavily rumored to have some sort of touch-based controls, most speculation does not say the NX will function as a phone. It’s not hard to see why Nintendo would not make NX a phone – the device would have to be designed to work with U.S. cellular carriers, which would up its cost. This would also put the Nintendo in direct competition with the likes of Samsung and Apple, and considering the tens of millions of devices those companies sell, it might be safer to simply maintain their niche in the portable game consoles. Of course, if such massive success can be had on various mobile platforms they don’t own, it brings up another issue for the NX…
Who needs the NX?
The success of Pokemon Go poses an interesting theoretical question: is the NX needed at all? Millions flocked to the app within days of its launch. It’s already been downloaded more times than the Wii U has been sold. Granted, that’s not an apples to apples comparison, but it shows the potential reach of a hit mobile app.
Nintendo’s insistence that it’s major software releases be on its own hardware is feeling increasingly anachronistic. The main reason to maintain a console style licensing system is to reap the benefits from third-party developers making games for a system, and the Wii U has had a poor track record with third-party games. Third-party efforts for Nintendo home consoles have been soft for many years and it’s hard to see the NX turning that around. The margins on selling the hardware itself is typically so thin as to not even be worth considering by itself.
There’s an argument to be made for Nintendo passing the risks of making hardware onto other companies to focus on making great software. People love Nintendo franchises and there’s no reason to think they won’t embrace them on platforms not owned and run by Nintendo. With NX, it’s clear that Nintendo is still fairly wedded to the concept of making their own hardware for at least the short term, but if they decide to shift focus to other hardware platforms, it wouldn’t be a surprise if it was the beginning of their most successful chapter yet if they launch games with even a fraction of Pokemon Go’s success.
David Radd is a staff writer for GameSauce.biz. David loves playing video games about as much as he enjoys writing about them, martial arts and composing his own novels.