Econ in the News: Pokemon GO and the Shift to Mobile

In a first-ever move for the franchise, Nintendo’s wildly popular Pokemon series is going mobile.

The recent announcement of Pokemon GO, an augmented reality Pokemon game that turns your smartphone into a Pokemon-geolocating device has gained a lot of buzz on social media as investors and sentimental millennials alike contemplate what this game means for the beloved series. Right now, this game appears to be in the MMO format, with a freemium model to generate revenue. Additionally, a device called the Pokemon GO Plus is being sold to alert players to nearby Pokemon when they aren’t on their smartphone. Players will wander their real environment, looking to capture, train, and battle Pokemon with friends and strangers alike. If the Pokemon company decides to have rare Pokemon only appear in small areas of the world, this could lead to some very interesting interactions.

A screenshot from the Pokemon GO concept video.

As the title of this article suggests, what I find the most notable about this announcement is Nintendo’s implicit acknowledgment that mobile has really taken ahold of the gaming market. Originally, the Pokemon games can with a forced bundle; that is, to play any (legal) Pokemon game required one to purchase the corresponding gaming system, from the Game Boys and GameCube of yesteryear to the DS and Wii series of present. In other words, the worldwide shift to mobile has forced the Pokemon franchise to create different avenues for its products, lest it permanently lose its place in the hearts and minds of future generations. I’m curious to see how this turns out for consumers; while on one hand the freemium model should dramatically reduce the cost to enjoy Pokemon, the Pokemon GO app is most likely engineered with generating continued interest and demand for Pokemon products in mind. I doubt that Nintendo will cease to continue producing hardware Pokemon games, and if Pokemon GO is well-timed Nintendo may see much greater sales of their newest games than ever before.

Interestingly enough, Pokemon was never intended to be as big a cultural icon as it has bellossomed into. After the first generation of Pokemon games was quite successful, Nintendo created the Gold and Silver versions with the intent of neatly wrapping up the franchise. Over two decades later, Pokemon is now on to its sixth generation of games, and The Pokemon Company remains one of Nintendo’s most popular and lucrative assets to date. It should be interesting to watch this shift to mobile, especially given its potential to introduce Pokemon to the next generation.

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