Two weeks after launch, the question isn’t “is Pokémon Go a phenomenon,” but rather “how long can this possibly last?”
Research firms like CB Insights are wondering whether or not Pokémon Go is a one-hit wonder, while Deutsche Bank has declared that the rally the game inspired in Nintendo’s stock price is over.
With Justin Bieber spotted playing in Central Park, and scattered reports of people uninstalling the game amid continuing technical issues and server overloads, the world wonders when this fad will run its course.
But there’s good reason to imagine that Pokémon Go will stick around for the long haul.
Consider this your reminder that this is actually the second time we’ve hit peak Pokémon. Back in 1996, Pokémon took over the world. Eventually, the hype died down. But Pokémon didn’t disappear.
For a lot of people, the first and only Pokémon game they played was “Pokémon Red and Blue,” the original titles for the Nintendo Game Boy, which shipped in 1996. Maybe they watched the cartoon, too. The national Pokémon craze may have died out after that, but the franchise lived on.
Here’s the extent of the Pokémon empire, circa 2016:
- The Pokémon Company, the spinoff company that manages the Pokémon trademark, says that by the end of May 2016, the Pokémon franchise — video games, toys, movies, TV, the whole shebang — was a ¥4.8 trillion (approximately $45 billion) enterprise.
- In 2015 alone, The Pokémon Company did $2.1 billion in retail revenue from Pokémon merchandise.
- The video games have sold over 280 million units total. It’s Nintendo’s second-best-selling franchise, behind only the Super Mario games.
- The original games had 151 unique Pokémon. The next pair in the series, “Pokémon Sun and Moon,” comes out this November and will bring the count to 722.
- The Pokémon cartoon is still on the air, with its 19th season wrapping up in August. Including the current season, there are 930 episodes of Pokémon.
The point is, Pokémon Go wasn’t generated in a vacuum. If anything, there’s been sustained and steady demand for new Pokémon games, even years after the first games introduced a generation to these battlin’ monsters.
And when it comes to Pokémon Go specifically, it has a pedigree. Niantic, the developer of Pokémon Go, was previously best known as the team responsible for “Ingress” — a game with a very similar focus on teaming up and exploring the map.
That game kept a dedicated audience happy for many years by adding new content, new features, and carefully cultivating its community and adding story elements. You can read a friend’s highly compelling account of her experience with “Ingress” addiction here, circa 2014, two years after it first came out. It includes a very funny story of buying a scooter from a 12-year-old kid on Craigslist so she could keep playing after she sprained her leg.
The point here being that while the fad is doomed, as are all mortal things on this earth given a long enough time horizon, I think you would be surprised at people’s long-term dedication to both Pokémon as a brand and Pokémon Go as a game.
A Pokémon Go pub crawl in San Francisco on Wednesday evening has over 9,000 Facebook RSVPs, with 29,000 interested. To me, that indicates that players aren’t bored yet. And Niantic promises lots of new features coming down the pipeline, including Pokémon trading, largely intended to facilitate more collaboration and competition between players. Those features will reward those who stick around with high scores and positions in the community.
And with The Pokémon Company and Nintendo both investors in Niantic, it’s a clear signal that they’re in this for the long haul. So long as dedicated players are willing to keep plugging away at it (and spending money on microtransactions), Niantic has every incentive to keep improving it and cultivating their audience.
After all, games like “World of Warcraft” keep marching on, even after losing many millions of players, because the ones who stay also tend to spend.
Then again, I said the same thing about “Disney Infinity,” and Disney pulled the plug on that game.
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