Nintendo, The Pokemon Company, and Niantic Labs knocked it out of the ballpark with Pokemon Go. The mobile app has been downloaded hundreds of millions of times and is making the companies involved millions of dollars. Well, one of the developers behind the main Pokemon games has chimed in to explain exactly why Pokemon Go is knocking it out of the ballpark.
In an interview with EDGE Magazine [via Nintendo Everything], Junichi Masuda, the lead developer behind the original Pokemon game series from Game Freak, explained why Pokemon Go was so successful, saying...
Pokemon has been consistent in delivering a positive player experience over the past 20 years and, as such, we're seeing a real nostalgia coming through from those who played the earlier versions of the games. I think the fact that we've never overhauled the series and created a divide between the old and the new is also one of the reasons Pokemon has enjoyed such longevity.
It's an interesting observation. However, a lot of the people engaging in Pokemon Go are people who have never played Pokemon Red, Blue, Black, White or any other game before, like Star Trek's Captain Sulu himself, George Takei. There's a number of young kids who are also just getting introduced to the series, along with parents who picked it up to play it because their kids were playing it, or because it was a great way to get out and get exercise.
There's a nascent market that piled into playing Pokemon Go very quickly, in addition to what Masuda talks about in regards to people coming back to check out the series after stepping away from it over the course of the 20 years that it's been available on the market.
However, I do think the second part of his comment is a lot more cogent when discussing the success of Pokemon Go. A lot of people may have heard of or seen the series in one way or another but likely didn't bother because they weren't into buying Nintendo products or buying games for portable devices. Pokemon Go being free meant that it was instantly available to just about anyone with an up-to-date smartphone and in turn it opened up the series to a vast market of gamers that could be tapped.
Not only did the free aspect play a part in the uptick of interest in the brand, but like Masuda states, Pokemon Go is a completely new and divergent approach to the typical formula they've been using for the series over the past 20 years. That certainly doesn't mean people are tired of the formula, it's just that it's something new and it appealed to both hardcore gamers and casuals alike.
The real story, in my opinion, isn't why the game is so popular (and that's definitely in part to what Masuda mentions about the nostalgia and the series being new) but, more-so, how they have managed to retain such high user engagement? I'm still a bit shocked that the mobile app has maintained the kind of momentum that it has since launching. Then again, does it really matter how they've managed to achieve the metrics that they have? I think most of everyone working at the various Nintendo subsidiaries are likely just happy that Pokemon Go is as popular as it is and making as much money as it is.