Micro-Essay #2: “Gotta Buy ‘Em All!”: From Pocket-Monsters to Global Masters

 

All_Nippon_Airways_Boeing_747-400_yellow_pokemon

by Jessica Turcotte

When you think of Pokémon, many things can pop into your mind : ranging from video games to theme parks (Poképark, a traveling Japanese theme park), it is no wonder that it is one of the most successful video game franchises of all time. Appealing to a wide range of ages, the simplistic idea of trading and collection is, what I believe to be, the basis of its popularity and success. Pokémon began simply as a video game, expanding to new heights with mangas, trading cards, movies and even dedicated stores (Pokémon Center in the United- States). One would think that creating a video game would be the last piece of the puzzle in terms of transmedia narratives, but it seems that working in “reverse” has brought the Pokémon franchise to global success.

Creating Product Dependance

One key aspect in order to turn a profit within the global market is based on what film historian Thomas Schatz refers to as“pre-selling” products, as well as creating dependance on said products through multiplatform storytelling. In Revisiting Globalization Through the Movie and Digital Games Industries, Kerr and Flynn state that audiences are “[attracted to the] pre-sold property […] even though they have not consumed it in its adapted form”. Essentially, consumers will lean towards products which they are already accustomed to (through different platforms), creating a safety net for companies launching said product onto a new medium while dealing with such an unpredictable market. Furthermore, since the basis of the Pokémon game is collecting and trading, it is a perfect method for other means of attracting an audience across different platforms (collecting cards, collecting figurines), appealing to a wider range of consumers across the world. The films and trading cards actually enhance the players gameplay experience with information on the Pokémon’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as add personality to the “pocket-monsters”. These different products are advertised to give the illusion that they are a must if you are aiming towards a complete experience.

pokemon

Seen on the official Pokémon website

This franchise by no means challenges the status quo, as it is already cemented into the global market. It merely improve upon itself by expanding the roster of pocket-monsters and create their games based upon different “generations” of Pokémon. These simple adjustments not only maintain the interest of their old-school audience, but allows for easier inclusion of newcomers by keeping its successful simplistic gameplay. “Gotta catch ’em all” is not only a simple catchphrase for the franchise, it is actively enticing the audience to reach the seemingly unobtainable goal of collecting all of the Pokémon. With this catchphrase looming over their head, as well as the constant expanding roster (starting out at a humble 150, bloating to a whopping 720), the consumer must “catch ’em all” by purchasing the flood of newer products in order to fulfill their ultimate goal. Only then, will they become a true Pokémon Master.

Accessibility Issues and Video Games

The Pokémon franchise was within reason to expand its range of products, due to the difficult accessibility of video games within certain countries. In Citizenship and Consumption: Convergence Culture, Transmedia Narratives and the Digital Divide Thomas Apperley brings up a crucial point in terms of accessibility. He states that some children in underdeveloped countries are “reduced to watching interactive media […] – locked out of participatory culture […] observers in a media paradigm characterized by action”. This is where the transmedia narrative of Pokémon comes in to play: marketing their product using different platforms in order to increase accessibility to their brand. Accessibility can also be defined by censorship and translating issues. These factors contribute to creating barriers between the player and the interactive nature of the game. If a child faces a badly translated game, it hinders their fundamental understanding of the gameplay and story. Moreover, if you put a child in front of a Pokémon movie with bad translation, then this child may still be interested and understand the story , due to movies ultimately being a visual medium, aiming to make the audience understand the plot by showing, rather than telling. It is easier to have access to films, books and toys rather than a video game, and by expanding the franchise to these mediums, the creators of Pokémon have encapsulated a wider range of consumers. These products not only act as entertainment, but allow for the consumer to have a proper “complete” experience. Through randomized booster packs (sealed package of cards) and Pokémon encounters, players are encouraged to buy more and play more in order for them to create their ultimate personalized “arsenal”. With removing the option of picking and choosing specific cards, players are encouraged to buy and trade their unwanted cards with their friends, creating not only an interactive experience, but also dependance of consumption.

pokemon2

Official Pokémon Website’s explanation of many duplicates within a single deck. Actively encourages the purchase of numerous types of decks, while strategically excluding essential cards from certain decks.

Local and Global Play

Online play appeals to the players desire of trading and comparing with friends on a whole new level. It is no coincidence that Satoshi Tajiri, the game’s director, released the initial Pokémon games on the Game Boy. This handheld device came equipped with a cable, allowing the ability to link between two devices, thus allowing the option of trading Pokémon. The aspect of trading within the Pokémon video game franchise is what drives the player to “complete” the game, which reflects the ongoing process of international “trading” of products across different platforms. Globalization allowed for the expansion of this concept, enhancing the ability to trade with people from around the world. This not only expands the possibilities of collection, but also allows for the sharing of information, challenges and tactics. For example, in the Nuzlocke challenge, players are given a strict set of rules to follow as well as the option to add their own . The challenge adds an extra layer of difficulty to the game, and encourages the player to form a closer bond with their Pokémon, as they are not as “disposable” as they once were in previous playthroughs. With these extra set of rules, dusting off your old Pokémon cartridge will not seem like such a bad idea, perhaps even rekindling your long-lost Pokélove. With global online-play introduced in the newer Pokémon games (Pokémon X and Y) players are not strictly limited to battling with NPC trainers, but with a wide-range of challenging opponents. Pokémon’s “evolution” to online-play not only serves as a platform for meaningful and fun social interaction, but also allows for the expansion of new marketing strategies (Now you can battle opponents from around the world!).

Conclusion

Pokémon has been one of the most successful franchises due to the company’s excellent marketing strategy, both appealing to children and adults alike. Building upon the success of the original game, the company has created a need in the consumer to buy their wide-range of products, as these products stemming from different mediums add to a “complete” experience within the franchise. Remember kids: if you would like to “be the very best” you must first purchase their games, trading cards, movies, mangas, clothes, accessories, drinkware…

Bibliography

Apperley, Thomas. “Citizenship and Consumption: Convergence Culture, Transmedia Narratives and the Digital

Divide.” IE ’07 Proceedings of the 4th Australasian conference on Interactive entertainment. Eds. Martin Gibbs and Yusuf Pisan. RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia, 2007.

Game Freak. Pokémon Red Version. Nintendo, 1998. Game Boy.

Kerr, Aphra and Roddy Flynn. “Revisiting Globalisation through the movie and digital games industries.” Convergence 9.1 (2003): 91-113.

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