Sections

Pokemon GO is the perfect marriage of IP and technology

Both Niantic and Nintendo deserve credit; if Nintendo can find such good matches for its other core IPs, the company's future is bright

The potential for Nintendo's IP on mobile devices is no longer a point for debate. As Pokemon GO, the first full-scale mobile title game based on the company's IP, trundles ahead with its global roll-out - which is actually going pretty quickly, but certainly not quickly enough for vocal fans in territories as-yet unserved - it is shooting up the top-grossing charts in territory after territory within hours of launch. By some measures, it's already the most popular mobile game ever in the USA, shoving aside former record-holder Candy Crush Saga within a matter of days.

Even more bizarre are the effects which the game is reportedly having in the real world, as its Augmented Reality (AR) game mechanics get players out roaming the streets in search of rare creatures, or congregating around areas designated by the software to battle for control of "gyms", vital facilities visible only to those using the application. Most of the stories about people doing tremendously stupid or dangerous things when playing the game are entirely fake, but there have been impacts both positive and negative from this play mechanism; small businesses seeing a boost in trade in one city, people getting annoyed at late-night crowding in residential parks in another.

"Someone at Nintendo...took the decision to take an enormous risk, marrying one of Nintendo's most valuable franchises to an incredibly niche, unproven and experimental kind of game"

On the sidelines - one such sideline being the entire nation of Japan, where the game has yet to launch - a discussion has started to bubble along about where the credit for this phenomenon rests. For most players, of course, there's no question as to who Pokemon Go can be attributed to; it's a Nintendo game. Those a little more versed in mobile games point out that it's actually largely similar to a previous game from developer Niantic, Ingress, which was far less popular but essentially played in the same way. Nintendo, an investor in Niantic (which was spun off from Google some time ago, and Google also remains an investor), just provided the Pokemon IP - the technology, the gameplay and the development genius is all down to Niantic.

That's true, and Niantic deserves a huge slice of the credit - but this misses the single biggest ingredient in Pokemon Go's success. That ingredient is neither the underlying, Ingress-style game, nor the Pokemon IP in which it is dressed; rather, it is the marriage of the two, the recognition of these two disparate elements being a perfect fit and the careful process through which they've been glued together. Someone at Nintendo - either at Nintendo proper or at subsidiary The Pokemon Company - took the decision to take an enormous risk, marrying one of Nintendo's most valuable franchises to an incredibly niche, unproven and experimental kind of game. The decision may look obvious in hindsight, but that's only because all the best decisions do.

It is still incredibly early in the game's lifecycle and it's hard to tell how much staying power it will have. The sheer intensity of the game experience could accelerate player fatigue; demanding that people actually go out and explore the world around them is a pretty big departure from the usual mobile game fare of idly flicking thumbs across a screen while wondering how long you can drag out this bathroom break for. Equally, though, it seems reasonable to anticipate that while a certain audience of more casual players will fall away from the game fairly rapidly, those remaining will be very dedicated and involved, creating a solid core business for the long-term.

"Nintendo can do something that no other major IP holder is really competent to do - it can think carefully, intelligently and creatively about how to fit its IP to mobile game concepts"

Regardless of how that plays out, however, the concept has been proved beyond a flicker of doubt. Nintendo's IP remains some of the most valuable in the world; easily the most valuable library of IP in the games business, and arguably on a par with other kids' and entertainment IP libraries held by the likes of Pixar or Marvel. One could argue the toss regarding the way Nintendo's IP stacks up to the various bits of Disney all day, but this actually ignores the enormous competitive advantage Nintendo has in mobile games; namely that it is actually a games company. Nintendo can do something that no other major IP holder is really competent to do - it can think carefully, intelligently and creatively about how to fit its IP to mobile game concepts. It employs some of the world's best game designers, and even if they aren't creating the games themselves - as in this case, where development was largely in Niantic's hands - their influence on the company's culture enables it to explore new ideas and evaluate creative risks in a way that for the most part eludes its rivals.

Pokemon GO is an ideal example of that in action - a perfect marriage of IP, technology and gameplay, which might all too easily have been overlooked by other companies who found themselves wary of an unproven and experimental field like AR games. The challenge for Nintendo in the coming years, then, is to find similar perfect matches for its other major titles. It's unlikely that very many of them will have the kind of headline-making impact of Pokemon GO (though, who really expected a Pokemon game to be a top news story around the world in 2016?), but finding the right tech and the right game style to match against franchises like Mario, Zelda, Animal Crossing (which I maintain could be the company's biggest mobile franchise) and all the rest is nothing short of vital if mobile efforts are to breathe new life into Nintendo.

"The massive boost in visibility of and interest in the franchise is likely to turn this year's 3DS game launches into the most successful Pokemon titles in many years"

One thing Nintendo has made clear about its mobile efforts from the outset is that it views them not as a replacement for its console hardware and software business, but as something additive and complementary to that business. An overlooked aspect of Pokemon Go thus far is how perfectly it fits with that vision. The mobile game seems to be making good money and will hopefully become a solid business in its own right; but it has also elevated Pokemon into the global conversation for the first time in years, tapping into the nostalgia of old fans and developing the enthusiasm of new young fans. Later this year, new Pokemon games will launch on the 3DS - and the beauty of Pokemon Go is that it's hard to imagine it cannibalising a single sale of that title. It's very obviously a Pokemon game, yet it's a radically different experience from playing the 3DS games; nobody is going to think "oh, I don't need that, I've got the one on my mobile phone". On the contrary, the massive boost in visibility of and interest in the franchise is likely to turn this year's 3DS game launches into the most successful Pokemon titles in many years.

This is the kind of virtuous circle that Nintendo wants from its mobile efforts - mobile games which enthuse and engage fans of its franchises, which make money in their own right and which strengthen the appeal of the company's console hardware and software. No other company is really in a position to build that kind of business, which is why what Nintendo is doing is such an interesting experiment to watch; it's never been attempted before and nobody even knows if it's possible. If Pokemon GO is the first real trial of this strategy, it's a very good sign for the company's diversified future.

Related stories

Sony: Planet of the Apes and PlayLink will help us reach non-gamers

Platform holder expects recognisable IP to play a big role in selling PlayStations to the masses

By James Batchelor

Facebook Instant Games trialling monetisation options for developers

In-app purchases and ads coming to a select set of games

By Haydn Taylor

Latest comments (9)

Pete Thompson Editor A year ago
I must be missing something as I don't really see what is so fascinating with Pokemon Go. I've had a "play" over the past couple of days as I was intrigued and to be honest i'm bored of it already. So the (basic) idea is that you find a virtual Pokemon creature in your AR space and flick a ball at it to collect it? I've collected two in two days, so what happens then? or is that it?
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Anthony ChanA year ago
@Pete Thompson

On the surface, you nailed the concept perfectly:) Walk around, find pocket monster, play flick ball mini game, repeat. Mix in some dry battles at gyms and then call it a day.

After a week of playing, below the surface, which I believe the columnists over the past articles have discussed, the game is an extremely novel concept.

1. For the avid Pokemon lover: They take the persona of an actual pokemon trainer and walk around in the 'Real World' while 'living the pokemon dream'. While you may look at the game as a simple ball flick game, Pokemon Lovers are able to think like a trainer. This is pokemon roleplaying at its finest!

2. For the non Pokemon lovers: Gamers are breaking away from the typical sofa ridden, unhealthy, sunlight deprived, anti-social stereotypes. Suddenly, gamers are out and about, they are gathering groups of fellow players and strangers and going on excursions outdoors. They are staying out longer, and staying connected only via mobile internet or wifi hotspots - but more importantly their chatter is face to face. They are not tethered to their desk or the television sets. They are not only speaking through headsets in Teamspeak. They are enjoying the game but more importantly, the game is allowing them to enjoy the great outdoors. They are discovering hangout spots, and they are making new friends with similar interests and ambitions while finding new points of interest.

TL;DR Pokemon Go is a great brand with a lot of brand history. The IP is well know and crosses many different formats of media. Pokemon Go changes the way we play our games similar to the way Ingress did. The advantage of Pokemon Go over Ingress is that Niantic is anchoring the concept with a brand that has a significant following. Niantic did well in understanding the foundation of the Pokemon story is independent exploration and discovery; which happens to be the same values they hold to AR gaming.
6Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Shane Sweeney Academic A year ago
Dominate spaces and maintain that space. It's about territory dominance like Ingress with the added charm of collecting and growing your Pokemon. But it turns walking into EXP, so it adds the functionality of

If the trailer for Pokemon Go gives hints to future functionality it will involve raids where Mewtwo attacks a city and everyone tries to battle it collectively. So I think this is just the start for the title.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Show all comments (9)
James Prendergast Research Chemist A year ago
It's the natural progression of the original Pokemon game idea.

I mean, I always thought they missed the boat by not making an open-world 3D game on the N64 or Gamecube (the Snap games don't really count) in favour of rinsing and repeating the game formula on their mobile platforms but they jumped that particular evolution and went straight to AR - which is great, though I would still have liked to play that intermediate game.

As for the popularity - it's one of the few multi-generational IPs that people continue to play over the years. I, myself, played through three or four generations of the game and know other people who have been into it not just for themselves but also as a way to bond with their children. It has such strong brand loyalty and huge mindshare in the general population (who hasn't heard of the name Pokemon?) it has to be one of the biggest IPs in the world that can straddle multiple age groups.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing A year ago
This might be one of the negative wake up moments though. Ingress existed for four years as a novelty game on the fringe, but now with a big IP slapped on it is suddenly all the rage and featured in all the mainstream media.

Pokemon's success will further solidify the idea of IP being the biggest factor for success, since it solves the one problem everybody is moaning about: discoverability. For the game studios and developers, this will not be a good thing in the long run, since all the blockbuster IPs are locked up with the big publishers, whose way to maximize profits will be to suck everybody dry with licensing fees.
1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Keldon Alleyne Developer, leader, writer, Avasopht LtdA year ago
Pokemon's success will further solidify the idea of IP being the biggest factor for success
It will always multiply market value and be vital exposure factor in a mature market. We wouldn't have brands or marketing if that were not the case!

And it's much safer to tie into an existing brand than to create a new one but you can also yield a much greater reward if you do strike gold with a new brand.

Risks vs rewards.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
I think we need to realize that the game behind Pokemon GO is lackluster, and is dependent more on the IP it is wrapped in and the Geocaching borrowed from the developer's previous title - a marriage of convenience, that has created a surprisingly compelling AR game title. I would go as far as saying the first true AAA AR title.

I am happy that the micro-transaction element of PG is not as abhorrent to the gameplay as other mobile apps and am happy that the hidden Exergaming element of the product is reviving interest in this approach. But for a game with legs, we will have to see. I look forward to the second successful AR game so to disprove this being a flash in the pan (or Poke-Gym!)

Edited 2 times. Last edit by kevin williams on 17th July 2016 11:03am

0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
simon scott Senior Technical Artist, SUMO DigitalA year ago
The two main points they seem to have nailed, are the social aspect and the need for the players to explore and move round in the real world. It might not be the best 'game' in the world, but after seeing the large amount of kids and adults, out and about with their friends in the fresh air, on a beautiful day like today, its certainly the sort of game we should encourage.

The outside of meadow hall on Friday, where someone had dropped some lures in the picnic area, was PACKED with people hanging out and chatting and engaging in this together.
Both my two kids (13 and 19) have been asking all weekend to be taken out for a long walk down the river Trent to hunt for water Pokemon, as a parent its certainly a game im encouraging them both to play. You cant walk 10 foot in town without spotting someone with the app open.

I'm not sure if it has a long tail, as the actual battle system is lacklustre compared to normal Pokemon titles currently, but its certainly something they can work on patching in, in the long term. Long may it continue in my opinion.
1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.A year ago
Remember when Nintendo said they were going to get into healthcare?

Surprise.
6Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply

Sign in to contribute

Need an account? Register now.