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Does Pokemon GO's success validate Nintendo's approach to mobile games?

Mobile games industry reacts to the location-based smash
Does Pokemon GO's success validate Nintendo's approach to mobile games?

It's not even been out a week, but Niantic Labs and Nintendo's Pokemon GO has already added $8 billion to Nintendo's value, is making $1.6 million a day on the US App Store, and is officially bigger than Tinder.

It's nothing short of a phenomenon. And so, we ask our Mobile Mavens:

  • How surprised have you been by the success of Pokemon GO?
  • Do you think it validates Nintendo's approach to mobile games?
Nicolas Godement-Berline

Nicolas Godement-Berline

Head of Operations

Very surprised. I was convinced Pokemon GO would be a total flop. The IP was always going to help it generate huge downloads, but I couldn't see players sticking and monetizing on an AR game.

Sometimes you have to admit you're wrong! Early indicators are stellar, though I have yet to try the game and it remains to be seen where the it is going to settle in the top grossing charts.

As for the second question: yes, Pokemon GO is very likely to validate Nintendo's approach to mobile games - to use their best IPs in original and unexpected titles very different from what the competition is doing, with a mix of internal and external developed titles.

Thomas Nielsen

Thomas Nielsen

Osao Games

This is what Nintendo does.

When everyone thinks they are as good as gone, they swoop in with a brilliant way of using technology that isnt already well known with the mass market.

“This is validation that Nintendo is the greatest games company in the world.”
Thomas Nielsen

And boom, an innovative (in the eyes of most consumers) game with mass market appeal sees the light of day.

We’ll obviously need to see the stickiness of the game, but to me, this already goes way beyond mobile: it's validation that Nintendo is the greatest games company in the world.

No matter what comes and goes, Nintendo has proven its ability to build global hits again and again - and what's more, it's good, clean fun, rather than (just) clever monetization that fuels agressive user acquisition.

I think it was Abraham Lincoln who said ”Only a fool underestimates the big N”. I could be wrong on that one, though.

Oscar Clark

Oscar Clark

Chief Strategy Officer at Fundamentally Games

I've always been excited about location-based, but there was never the momentum behind it. Really excited to play... but I still can't. Just check the UK Google Play store and it's still not there.

I've written about the issues of location-based games before. They are an odd compromise of a nice tech idea with a relatively rare use-case (most of us want to sit down while we play, not run about).

A player roaming the streets in <em>Ingress, </em>Niantic's previous game
A player roaming the streets in Ingress, Niantic's previous game

We need a reason to get off our asses, and what better way to capture our imagination than catching them all!

But the question will be whether they can sustain the interest. I suspect so from the brief videos I've seen so far, but I want to play myself.

So please, Nintendo, please release worldwide so I can play now!

Scott Foe

Scott Foe

Chief Product Officer at Ignited Artists

I swipe right on you, Pikachu!

Harry Holmwood

Harry Holmwood

CEO at Marvelous Europe

I think it's fascinating in that there have been plenty of location-based games before, and GO doesn't seem to be doing much that hasn't been seen before, but it's already a phenomenon.


Shows the power of the right brand to ignite the imagination. I can't wait to see how it continues to perform - it's too early to know if this is something that will engage people in the long term, or is just a flash in the pan.

What it definitely shows, though, is that Nintendo should never be written off - with these mobile efforts and a new console next year (whatever it turns out to be), it's looking like it's back with a vengeance.

Oscar Clark

Oscar Clark

Chief Strategy Officer at Fundamentally Games

Lets face it, though: this is the location-based game we wanted all along.

“It's the location-based game we wanted all along.”
Oscar Clark

Even back in 2003 when we tried to commission our Vampires Vs Hunter games - which never saw the light of day and, had it, would have crashed and burned - Pokemon was the key inspiration.

But I still cant play it... and as you say, no idea yet if it has the staying power. But I have a good feeling about it.

I want to be on Team Rocket - where there's trouble, make it double...

Shintaro Kanaoya

Shintaro Kanaoya

CEO at Chorus Worldwide

From a business point of view, there are several interesting things going on:

  • This is a Niantic game first and foremost, a location and AR specialist team internally incubated at Google until it was spun off last year after the Alphabet re-organisation. This would explain the Google login in the app, and not Facebook, Twitter, etc.
  • Nintendo are 33% owners of The Pokemon Company, who are the official licensors. Both TPC and Nintendo themselves invested $30m in Niantic, so clearly this is more than just a casual licensing deal.
  • Pokemon GO does not seem to have DeNA's fingerprints on it anywhere. Curious as DeNA are Nintendo's strategic partners for mobile.
  • The market has gone crazy on Nintendo stock since GO's launch, sending Nintendo's share price up by over a third since its launch.

As a collaboration, this borders on genius.

“I'd be very surprised if Niantic acquisition talks weren't in the works, either by The Pokemon Company or by Nintendo itself.”
Shintaro Kanaoya

Niantic have been doing location and AR for quite a while, and this is the perfect marriage between a technology that's never quite found a breakthrough application, with an IP that was looking for a fresh angle.

I'd be very surprised if Niantic acquisition talks weren't in the works, either by TPC or by Nintendo itself.

While it makes sense that Nintendo get showered with investor confidence (both because of their stake in The Pokemon Company, and their investment into Niantic), it's far from obvious that Pokemon Go's success shows that Nintendo have cracked mobile and global re-domination is just the flick of their IP lawyer's pen away. Why?

First, is this replicable? The combination of best-in-class AR and location-based technology, with a 30-year old behemoth IP centred around exploring the environment and collecting infinitely manufacturable fictional creatures, is the most brilliant combo since grapes met fermentation.

But how many other IPs does it make as much sense to do this with?

Second, the secret sauce is with Niantic. Is this going to flow into Nintendo freely?

Third, are there any lessons from Pokemon GO's success that Nintendo can readily apply to Mario, Zelda, Metroid, Kirby, Smash Bros, Pikmin, etc?

Or will they need equally ideal marriages of IP and tech to create anything like this big again?

The most heartening thing about all of this, though, is the sheer left-field approach they took to bringing Pokemon to mobile. It would have been the easiest thing in the world to create a standard Pokemon for mobile, and undoubtedly revenue would have flooded in.

But Nintendo have eschewed that to once again further the concept of "play", and for the first time, on someone else's platform. If they keep taking this approach, the mind boggles at what they might try next.

From a game point of view, it feels very Western (because it is), and it'll be interesting to see if any changes have been made for this week's Japan release.

The FTUE could be quite abrupt for Japanese users, especially younger ones, but the brand and hype will likely keep users persevering beyond when they might otherwise eject.

Having only played it for all of 10 minutes in leafy Surrey, it's definitely fun to see local places tagged on there as PokéSpots. I'll be checking some out tomorrow. Luckily, one of them is a pub.

William D. Volk

William D. Volk

Chief Futurist at Forward Reality

Pokemon GO is literally taking over the planet.

The CEO of Niantic is John Hanke, who previously pioneered MMOs with Meridian 59 and founded Keyhole (aka Google Earth, which is how he landed at Google). Ingress was the prior product.


Was I surprised? No. I have been anticipating this since NTT DoCoMo’s location-based fishing game of the early 2000’s (as well as BotFighters).

Pokemon was the perfect license and, with the experience of Ingress, Niantic was well poised to make this work.

This is the groundbreaking AR game. It’s the AR equal of DOOM’s effect on FPS games.

Christopher Kassulke

Christopher Kassulke

CEO at HandyGames

It is no surprise to me that Pokemon GO works, as it is not developed by DeNA. It was a spin off from Google, and Nintendo invested in it as well.

Otherwise, they would not get the IP for sure. It was a small risk for Nintendo (max $30 million) and they should have back their investment within a month, I think.

“Nintendo’s brands are very powerful, and I hope it sees now that bringing them to other hardware is the best way to make money.”
Christopher Kassulke

Niantic even used Ingress features, so they rebranded and changed the game with a big brand and of course it worked.

Ingress itself was already great. The awesome thing is everyone starts walking again - or uses drones to hunt Pokemon!

Nintendo’s brands are very powerful, and I hope it sees now that bringing its brands to other hardware (mobile) might be the best way to make money.

Its shares skyrocketed thanks to just one game in AR! The pressure is now on DeNA to bring in more mobile games. I am waiting for Zelda Online, Mario World, etc.

They have so many great brands consumers want to see. Perhaps Nintendo will speed up the process to bring more games to mobile, even without DeNA, to catch a bigger share of the market.

The biggest money will be made not as IAP, but from selling the data behind the game.

Check out the permissions the game requires - selling that data will surely bring the company more money than $1.5 million a day in the US.

Jared Steffes

Jared Steffes

Co-founder at Muxy

I really felt this was going to be a hit. Nintendo had been an early adopter of Augmented Reality (AR) with the 3DS.

I really love the concept of AR, and I recall being at SXSW in 2011, having a beer outside with some folks from a large, bird-related studio, and pitching an AR location-based game to them which I would still like to see happen.

It's easy to forget the 3DS came with AR features
It's easy to forget the 3DS came with AR features

This formula can be replicated again, and it should be.

It is a shame that more people did not play Ingress, because it was an awesome experience to see it grow. Pokemon GO has about 1/5 of the features Ingress has, and I am not sure if it will ever get the rest.

The rush of users at the launch of GO was expected by me, but its server infrastructure did not seem flexible enough for the onslaught of users at high usage periods like lunch time.

Pokemon GO has about 1/5 of the features Ingress has, and I am not sure if it will ever get the rest.”
Jared Steffes

I still have loads of trouble with server timeouts. I also work in downtown Austin, TX and there is surprisingly a lack of map content/objectives here.

I have found a PokeStop at a church and an allegedly haunted children's graveyard near my house.. weird spots, in my opinion.

The instructions/tutorials are less than stellar which, while bad in theory, led to a huge internet rush for tutorials and guides on what the heck a player should do.

My blog published a couple guides quickly and they have been well viewed through organic SEO. 3rd party apps that give tips and locations of where Pokemon are found will become very popular.

It has been a very unique experience playing Pokemon GO in the USA. Yesterday was 7-11 day, where 7-11 stores give out free Slurpees. I told my team we would head out to get a Slurpee at 2:30 pm.

Two thirds of us are playing GO on the trip. We run into other "adults" with their phones on, and begin telling each other where to catch Pokemon on the trip.

It's fun, and reminds me of the World of Warcraft heydays when I could go up to new people and just talk about WoW. I even went walking in a park on Sunday with my wife and we saw about 12 people chasing Poke-dreams and burning down their phone batteries.

I'm just waiting for someone to come out with an article that claims Pokemon GO battery usage is causing a spike in global warming.

Question: Why didn't they take this opportunity to tie Miitomo avatars into the game? I know the art style is different, but I would've made it a login opportunity at least.

William D. Volk

William D. Volk

Chief Futurist at Forward Reality

Businesses will pay to have Pokemon placed on their premises.

Look at this note a journalist got from a hotel: