Micro Essay #2 by Alexandre Cote-Benoit
Nintendo’s Pokemon is one of the few incredibly successful franchises in video games nowadays. Launched in 1996 in Japan and 1998 in North America on the original Gameboy, it spawned over 86 games and endless merchandise. It is a bit of an odd duck in today’s market as it is a Japanese franchise rather than a western one. Which makes one wonder: would Pokemon succeed in today’s video game market if it were launched as a brand new intellectual property?
it likely wouldn’t, it may have isolated success in Japan, however it would most likely not reach the same level of popularity.
For one, the market has shifted considerably over the years, whereas the 90s was the era dominated by Japanese developed games, the 2000s quickly became an era dominated by western developed games. Which is an interesting shift, western games were in the the position of Japanese ones when Pokemon was released. This shift can be attributed to Sony’s entry into the console market with the Playstation which brought a bevy of new developers, many of whom were North American.
From there, one could say the rise of the console shooter began with titles like Medal of Honor and ports of PC shooters like Final Doom. This gave the Playstation more of a western appeal while still retaining the Japanese audience with other more traditional console titles.
Sony’s foray into video games lead to a market expansion and in turn a widening of the video game audience in North America. While video games in western world are now big business much in the same way movies are, the Japanese market has stayed the same or even shrunk. There are few Japanese developers remaining from the heydays of the 90s, many merged (like Square Enix) or simply fell by the wayside (like Konami). Since the market has become so narrow in Japan, most tentpole video game companies are focused on handheld or mobile games that are only being released there.
Interestingly, video games can still be huge in Japan, a good example is Youkai Watch, a 3DS only release from Japanese developer Level 5. Primarily aimed at kids, it is incredibly popular in Japan with a sequel already out, merchandise and an upcoming animated series; it is poised to rival even Pokemon. However, there are no plans to bring it to North America as localization costs are said to be too steep for the interest level it would have in the west.
In other words, since the video game market in North America has grown significantly, interest in Japanese made games has seen a considerable drop. Japan no longer has the sway it once had in the video game space nor does it have the money to compete with massive western companies and their monolithic franchises. Therefore that is why Pokemon, if launched as a new franchise in today’s video game market would likely become a niche franchise at best.
Game Freak, Pokemon, Gameboy, 1998, Published by Nintendo
Dreamworks Interactive, Medal Of Honor, Playstation, 1999, Published by Electronic Arts
ID Software, Final Doom, Playstation, 1995 , Published on Playstation by Midway
Kerr, Aphra and Roddy Flynn. “Revisiting Globalisation through the movie and digital games industries.”
Convergence 9.1 (2003): 91-113. doi:10.1177/135485650300900106.