Author Topic: Where is Nintendo today without Pokémon?  (Read 30741 times)

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Offline Adrock

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Where is Nintendo today without Pokémon?
« on: May 11, 2021, 02:15:13 AM »
I have a long list of questions I wanted to ask all both of you who still post here regularly so in a fleeting effort to foster more discussion, here’s one of these new topics! 👍

Considering what old authentic Pokémon cartridges are going for these days, I wondered where Nintendo would be as a company if Pokémon never existed. Nintendo leaned hard on the handheld market during rough times, and Pokémon was a big part of Nintendo’s ability to do so. The company’s dominance in that market also allowed it to experiment more.

Hot take: I kind of feel like Nintendo would not be a hardware maker anymore without Pokémon. Nintendo wiped the floor with all pretenders to the throne in the early 90s. Tetris certainly put Game Boy on the map. However, handhelds from Sega, Atari, and NEC were bulky, battery devourers. It’s easy to see how Nintendo outsmarted everyone. Even original color choice was unique among the sea of black boxes. You always knew someone was playing a Game Boy. Furthermlre, opening up these bad Boys, it’s obvious Nintendo’s hardware design was far and away much better than the competition. Seriously, google pictures or watch video of a Game Gear tear down. It is a mess in there. I considered modding a Game Gear, and I cannot be bothered.

Once other companies figured out how to properly design a portable gaming device in the late 90s, it was too late. By then, Nintendo had Pokémon. The WonderSwan and Neo Geo Pocket Color were both really nicely designed handhelds and were designed by people who finally understood what Nintendo did like a decade before everyone else. The WonderSwan got roughly 2846826 hours of battery life on a single AA battery which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering it was famously designed by Game Boy creator, Gunpei Yokoi. As an even wilder hypothetical, if either Bandai or NEC got Pokémon instead, they could have taken a significant amount of market share from Nintendo.

Even if Nintendo survived them, I wonder if it could have survived PSP. Then again, without Pokémon, we also don’t know what Nintendo would have countered with instead. Maybe Project Atlantis actually comes out. Maybe Game Boy Color gets an exclusive Mario platformer. Maybe Nintendo fosters a different IP that ultimately died in this timeline. Lots of possibilities here.

I thought this would be a fun hypothetical. What do you think? How important has Pokémon been to Nintendo? I’d argue no other property has been more important as far as generating revenue, keeping the company in the social consciousness etc. The domino effect is pretty remarkable here. It isn’t just game sales and licensing. More people bought hardware to play Pokémon which also meant, more people bought the company’s other games.

Offline nickmitch

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Re: Where is Nintendo today without Pokémon?
« Reply #1 on: May 11, 2021, 08:20:02 PM »
I'd think Pokemon is pretty dang important.  It's clearly been the lifeblood of the handheld space.  During the Wii U years (2012-2017) Nintendo put out B2W2, X&Y, ORAS, SM, and USUM.  That's almost one mainline game for every year of the Wii U's life, and I don't think that was a coincidence.  I think Nintendo needed that output during those times to keep the 3DS numbers up and the company as a whole afloat.  Although, I'd have to go back and look at the numbers.

I don't know what Nintendo would've done without Pokemon.  I think they were looking for that connectivity based franchise for the Game Boy, so maybe they would've nurtured a couple of others, and maybe one would've stuck.  Pokemon in the west had that perfect combination of "here's this new cartoon AND toy you can get" with its release, so it's hard to envision Nintendo taking that risk with 2-3 other properties to see what sticks.  If Digimon is still a thing, maybe Nintendo tries to secure the rights?  Or maybe connectivity just doesn't become a thing for them?

Pokemon was a star product for years.  Hell, Nintendo put out multiple Pokemon N64s, while Mario got none.  And even though Nintendo treats it as a cash cow, it's not unreasonable to assume that a big investment boost in GameFreak couldn't make a game that somehow sells more than they do already.  It's just hard to see Nintendo as the same company without one of its key console selling franchises.

Edit: Here's another thought, Iwata led the company through the Wii and DS days.  But he worked on Pokemon Gold and Silver (famously getting the code for the Kanto region to work, iirc), so it's interesting if he has the same career trajectory without Pokemon.
« Last Edit: May 11, 2021, 08:23:59 PM by nickmitch »
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Offline NWR_insanolord

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Re: Where is Nintendo today without Pokémon?
« Reply #2 on: May 11, 2021, 08:28:23 PM »
Forget whether Nintendo could hold off the PSP without Pokemon, does the PSP even exist if not for Pokemon? I think it's quite possible the handheld space is much more of a niche thing without Pokemon reinvigorating it. Continuing with that thread, how much worse shape is Nintendo in during the GameCube years if the GBA isn't there in as big a way to carry them?
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Offline Mr. Bungle

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Re: Where is Nintendo today without Pokémon?
« Reply #3 on: May 12, 2021, 11:51:30 AM »
Clearly the lackluster console sales have leaned on the handheld sales e.g., Gamecube leaning on GBA as Insanolord mentioned and Wii U leaning on 3DS as Nickmitch mentions. Also the handhelds have been strongly influenced by the Pokémon mainline series. The efforts to keep the games at a low price point and on the handheld with the larger install base are well known. Even with Sword and Shield there was some speculation early on that they would be 3DS releases because of these issues.
Hypothetically, if GameFreak was a third party or even got bought by Sony or Sega, what would Nintendo have done? Would they have spent more time developing handheld games with existing IP, create a new one to compete, or support other competing ones more e.g., Yokai Watch. Interesting questions to consider... ???
I wonder how many people outside of Nintendo/gaming culture understand Nintendo's relationship to Pokémon. Growing up I did not think of them as a Nintendo exclusive franchise. I know that in some demographics a character like Pikachu is more beloved than Mario.
One last item to mention is Sony's Vita. This is a quality handheld gaming device with some great games but without a system seller  it did not succeed. Pokemon is clearly a system seller when it comes to handhelds and perhaps more so than almost any other franchise.

Offline nickmitch

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Re: Where is Nintendo today without Pokémon?
« Reply #4 on: May 14, 2021, 10:08:43 PM »
Other handhelds make for a great question.  It was Nintendo's race to lose for a long time.  I think it raises the question if those other consoles lost to Pokémon or if they would've fizzled out on their own anyway.  I think Sony tries to get in the space as long as it looks viable.  If Nintendo has to bail because it doesn't have Pokémon, do the others follow suit?  Or does Nintendo still win out, but with worse margins?
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Offline Ian Sane

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Re: Where is Nintendo today without Pokémon?
« Reply #5 on: May 20, 2021, 12:00:36 PM »
During the Gamcube years I always felt that a proper console Pokemon game was the ultimate killer app that would save the system, and I got pretty frustrated that Nintendo kept those exclusive to the handhelds.  But the key thing is that it seemed like that was the one Nintendo franchise at the time that was hot with the mainstream.  The other Nintendo franchises were older and were at that middle period where they're not new anymore but they're not old enough to create nostalgia, so they're just old.

Initially the 3DS was not catching on and the Wii U was a notorious flop, so it looked like Nintendo was in danger of pulling a Sega at that point.  That's easily the closest they got.  What games came out around the time period that the 3DS caught on?  Did that coincide with a Pokemon game?  For me it did as I bought one for Pokemon X.  If the 3DS required Pokemon to be a success then that's Nintendo's whole future right there.  If both the 3DS an Wii U flop I don't see there being any Switch.