One of the topics I’ve wrapped my brain around is why Pokemon is successful. Everyone and their mother has made a “monster” game. You have Digimon, Monster Rancher, and now Yokai Watch. They all fail. But Pokemon succeeds. Pokemon, even after 20 years, sells at least 10 million for each new game. How do they keep making success after success. After playing the newest Pokemon, I figured.
When I was playing the game, I felt like I have my own little team of Pokemon that I was connected to (as much as you can be connected to data). After a tough battle, I would use the Pokemon Refresh to pet them, feed them, mess with them and see what they did. As I was doing this, It then dawned on me what Pokemon successful. It’s because Pokemon are fantasy battle pets. The appeal of these games (and why people keep coming back) is the same as a cat or a dog. Pokemon, at its core, is a pet simulator with battling. Everyone has a Pokemon they like and everyone has a Pokemon that you’ve raised up and care about. Its also why the Pokemon Company keeps focusing on letting you transfer old Pokemon into the new games. The appeal of the game is having you feel like the Pokemon is yours. You have your companion. They have the moves you taught them. The nickname you gave them. They even have stats unique to that specific Pokemon (known as individual values). Pokemon is just a better Giga Pet.
Unlike a lot of other “monster” games, there is more of a sense of raising and growing with the digital creature. You build up your Pokemon. You teach it all these moves (of which it can only keep 4). They even have their own individualized stats in “Individual Values.” You give it a special nickname. And then you can battle them with your friends, and trade them.
Kyle Bosman, on his show The Final Bosman, made the point about how your Pokemon is unique to you. As he so put it “This game doesn’t want you to think of the Pokemon as data even though they are.” Even in this new game, Pokemon Sun and Moon, the game treats the Pokemon as your partner. They put a huge emphasis on the Pokemon being your ally that you work with and grow together.
This is also why other monster games always fail. They always try something similar but never get that feeling of connection with your digital creature. As a result, the creatures feel like data. In Digimon, they are just data, so everything about them feels pointless. In Yokai Watch, you catch ghost. Do you really want to catch a ghost? It’s a gimmick. Pokemon, on the other hand, tries to keep it close to the real world, and it’s done a pretty good job despite a few odd Pokemon.
This is also why Pokemon Go is declining. It succeeded by having Pokemon in the real world. It took a successful brand and integrated something new and unique (Augmented Reality). The problem is that the Pokemon ARE just data in that game. In order to make a Pokemon stronger, you have to catch hordes of other Pokemon. What it does is make each Pokemon feel inconsequential. And your Pokemon isn’t special. It’s the same as every other Pokemon of that type. It has the same stats. It doesn’t learn any moves. What the game missed was that feeling of having your own Pokemon.
This sums up why analyst always get it wrong. They see brands, not games. Pokemon Go lost its way because there was nothing in the game to care about. The Pokemon were data, which is the antithesis to Pokemon. In Pokemon Sun and Moon, the game makes you care about the Pokemon. You can now even feed and pet the Pokemon. As silly as that sounds, it’s these kinds of things that make people like Pokemon. It’s what has kept it going for 20 years.