It’s actually a little unfair to discuss Pokmon in relation to Nintendo’s fortunes.
For starters, it’s The Pokmon Company – not Nintendo – that operates the brand, while the independent studio Game Freak is the series’ primary developer.
Pokmon Go isn’t some triumphant return for the franchise, either. Because it never went away. Sure, the heady days of the late ‘90s when Pokmon cards were banned from playgrounds, and the TV series dominated Saturday morning TV, may be long gone (well, until now). But the games still persistently sell in the millions, the card game is still constantly updated and played around the world, while the TV series is hurtling towards its 1,000th episode. A 19th movie is even due out this year.
The Pokmon Company must take the credit for that, and although Nintendo was among the investors in Pokmon Go developer Niantic, it was ultimately The Pokmon Company that led the creation of the brand’s first smartphone game – back in 2014 with Pokmon Trading Card Game for iOS and Android. That’s well before Nintendo made moves into the sector.
Yet, although all of that is true, Pokmon is very much part of Nintendo’s DNA. Nintendo is a major shareholder in The Pokmon Company and it owns the trademarks to the Pokmon brand name and its characters.
More than that, the brand is associated with its hardware – Pikachu is as much a Nintendo icon as Mario. And although the success of Pokmon Go won’t single-handedly swell Nintendo’s coffers, it does bode well for its strategy.
Nintendo’s first foray into mobile development – Miitomo – was an unusual diversion, at best. Yet the big IPs are on their way. Fire Emblem and Animal Crossing are due on mobile this year, and it can’t be long before a certain Mario shows up on iPhone and Android soon.
The late Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata stated last year that he believed smartphone versions of its IP would help the firm sell more ‘traditional’ games for the upcoming (and still mysterious) NX. The firm even teamed up with mobile giant DeNA to build a network that would allow it to connect its smartphone games with its console ones.
Pokmon Go doesn’t use that system, but it does validate that strategy. Without even trying, Pokmon Go has helped the sales of 3DS Pokmon games increase by almost 150 per cent – while 3DS hardware sales have taken a similar jump.
Just a few years ago, Apple and Google looked set to kill Nintendo’s hardware business. Now, they might just prove to be its unlikely saviour.