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Pokemon Go: How Nintendo Went Global

What does Pokemon Go’s success mean?

It’s safe to say that there are plenty of people who were blindsided by the explosion of popularity surrounding the release of Pokemon Go.

Even in the gaming industry, few expected it to gain quite so much interest quite so fast.

It’s taken the world by storm in a way that few games have even come close to – let alone games built on the kind of experimental technology that Pokemon Go is.

That said, Nintendo do have plenty of precedents for succeeding with unproven tech. Their Nintendo DS is the second best-selling video game console of all time.

At 154 million units sold worldwide, it’s only just short of the top spot held by Sony’s Playstation 2.

Then there’s the Wii, which proved an enormous mainstream success – selling out well past the Christmas period in which the console launched.

As it stands, Pokemon Go is set to fit nicely into that legacy.

The game’s still sitting atop both the Apple App Store and Google Play charts, surpassing both Twitter in number of users and Facebook in average engagement times.

Perhaps most notably – Pokemon Go represents both Nintendo’s first major success in the mobile market and their first major success without the aid of the retail channel.

Just how big is it?

According to Kyle Moore, a PhD candidate the University of Sydney who has written several academic papers on Niantic’s previous AR (augmented-reality) game Ingress: “The short answer is, massive.”

“The game is already hugely successful despite only being available in Australia, New Zealand, The United States and a few other locations”

He says Pokemon Go “has a huge amount of visibility, not only in media coverage, but across social networks and is increasingly visible when just walking through populated areas.”

He asserts that Niantic’s first game – Ingress – very much paved the way for Pokemon Go’s seemingly-immediate success.

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“During the initial stages of Ingress, players were able to submit portals that would then be approved by Niantic. These portal locations became the underlying infrastructure for Pokémon Go – being used as PokeStops and Gym locations.”

In addition, “A lot of Ingress players, at least in Australia, signed up to participate in the field testing phase of Pokémon Go, using their knowledge of location-based games to provide Niantic with a lot of feedback of the course of a few months.”

Is this success sustainable?

Moore says that “the game itself is only somewhat sustainable at the moment, with the ongoing server crashes – which will obviously be ironed out and the game will be more stable as time goes on”.

He describes the culture around the game as having reached ‘viral status’ and, accordingly, expects its current visibility to sustain itself for some times.

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“Perhaps the game will start to lose players once they have caught them all but from previous experiences Niantic will no doubt add to the game over time and ensure a steady dedicated player-base.”

The game currently features the first one hundred and fifty or so Pokemon – leaving another six hundred that could potentially be added in at a later date.

Where can Nintendo and Niantic go from here?

Beyond the sustainability of the app’s current popularity, the biggest question facing Nintendo in the wake of Pokemon Go’s release is where the company can take things from here – both within the game and outside it.

Niantic are promising new trading mechanics will be added to the game – with player-versus-player battles and additional avatar customization also expected to be added later down the line.

These new mechanics will also help keep up engagement with the game’s dedicated playerbase once the initial excitement around it dies down.

Moore asserts that expansions to the game’s current distribution of PokeStops and Gyms could also be on the cards.

“There is also potential to accommodate the huge increase of players in locations without PokeStops and Gyms, and to add to their extensive map, allowing users to submit additional locations to be included”

Nintendo themselves are releasing a physical accessory for the game later in the year, called Pokemon Go Plus.

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The wearable add-on will strap to your wrist or clipped onto your bag, connecting via Bluetooth to the app and sending notifications when you’re within range of PokeStops and Gyms.

There’s no official release date for the peripheral but several American retailers have already begun taking preorders for it, pegging the shipping date of the device around late-July-to-early-August.

What does it mean for AR tech?

Many are heralding Pokemon Go as not just a big win for Nintendo’s stock value – but also a major victory for AR tech.

Moore says “Prior to Pokémon Go a lot of these technologies were gimmicky and buggy at best.”

“Pokémon Go signals that these modes of engaging with media and public space may actually be entertaining. More importantly, that augmented reality – not just as a layer but as a new form of playful photography – creates highly shareable new media objects.”

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All this said, some have been hesitant to call Pokemon Go a true augmented-reality experience.

In a guest post on VentureBeat, Sunny Dhillon said “Calling Pokémon Go AR is like calling mobile 360 video VR. Both are incredibly low-end, basic demonstrations of what each technology will be capable of in the next five years.”

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