As Nintendo reels from the recent poor financial news, it still has a secret weapon at its disposal that has the potential to reverse its fortunes in the form of Pokémon. The Pokémon franchise itself is hardly a secret, but there is an implementation of this franchise that, up till now, Nintendo has been hesitant to consider. Of the “Big Three” video game hardware producers, Nintendo has been the slowest to adapt to online gaming. Microsoft’s “Xbox Live” service set the gold standard for integrated online play and rival Sony was quick to attempt to duplicate it. But Nintendo lagged behind with even the recent Wii console not offering as robust an online suite as the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3.
Nintendo has started to reverse this trend in recent years, first expanding the online reach of the original Wii and offering increased options for the Wii U. In addition, the very successful 3DS handheld has seen its online reach expanded. As the dismal sales for the Wii U demonstrate however, the steps Nintendo has already taken may not be enough. It is likely that Nintendo is going to have to embrace some more “radical” adjustments if they are going to continue as a gaming company.
One of Nintendo’s core strengths has always been its unique franchises. For decades now gamers have flocked to games like Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda, and Donkey Kong. In the past, these franchises alone were enough to motivate gamers to purchase Nintendo consoles, as this was the only way to play these games. This highly proprietary model is breaking down in the face of new realities in the gaming market, leading to the stiff financial difficulties Nintendo faces today. It is here that the Pokémon franchise has the potential to be a secret weapon that can change Nintendo’s financial fortunes.
One of the more popular recent trends in gaming has been the “massively multiplayer role playing game,” or MMORPG. Many popular franchises from across the spectrum have attempted to take advantage of this trend to create popular (and profitable) games. Some of the most recent efforts have involved long-standing, venerable franchises such as Star Wars. While it can be debated that perhaps the “prime” period for popularity of MMORPG’s has passed, it is a genre that Nintendo has yet to explore, and one that is absolutely ripe for a franchise such as Pokémon.
The concept behind Pokémon is almost “tailor made” for MMORPG’s, and Nintendo has, in fact, been expanding the online presence of these games in their most recent adaptations. But Nintendo has always hesitated to “pull the trigger” and develop a fully featured, persistent online world for would-be Pokémon trainers to live and battle in. It is this fully realized implementation that could be a key in reversing Nintendo’s financial fortunes. If Nintendo were to doubt this potential, they need look no further than to MMORPG industry leader Blizzard Entertainment and its World of Warcraft (WoW) game. Blizzard recently implemented a “battle pet” feature in WoW not unlike the concept behind Pokémon, so similar in fact that it drew much light-hearted criticism from its players. It quickly became one of the game’s most popular activities.
This is the potential that Nintendo could capture. The reasons for Nintendo’s hesitation could be many, and they are not entirely without merit. The most compelling has to do with the nature of Nintendo’s primary audience. Despite the aging of the gaming population in general, Nintendo (and Pokémon in particular) does trend towards younger players. The online “world” can be a dangerous place for young people and even though every online game contains disclaimers about how “game experience may change online,” no gaming company wants to be associated with its games being used for criminal activity, particularly against children. This can be seen in Nintendo’s recent decision to permanently disable a 3DS app that was being used to share offensive material. So from this perspective, it can be seen why Nintendo would not want to “open its doors” to a fully persistent online world.
Nintendo’s current financial situation however would seem to indicate that it is worth the risk to pursue an MMORPG style Pokémon game. The franchise’s mechanics fit the genre almost perfectly, and Nintendo has already begun the process of bringing Pokémon more into the online world. In addition, Pokémon players the world over would likely embrace such a game as many of them have been asking for it for many years. If Nintendo is determined to remain a relevant player in the gaming industry, they can still deploy this Pokémon secret weapon with the potential to change their financial fortunes.
Editorial By Christopher V. Spencer