It’s wild that Pokémon sparked such insane popularity. Lately, we’ve seen big whiffs. Pokémon Sword and Shield cut Dex entries after years of blasting the marketing slogan “Gotta Catch ‘Em All!” on repeat. Scarlet and Violet run silky smooth… if we compare them to titles from the ancient gray brick that late-1900’s historians dubbed PS1.
And, despite critics and keyboard warriors sabotaging Pokémon’s brand reputation, the games sell like hotcakes – generation after generation.
After all, I’m still blogging about Pokémon. You probably have a friend who snuggles up in a Snorlax bean chair and binges the Anime. Kids can identify a Pikachu earlier than they memorize the McDonald’s golden arches dangling from the back seat windshield on their commute to daycare.
Somehow, these games keep spewing annual re-skins, like Call of Duty or FIFA, and fans gobble them up.
There’s a Pokémon who’s a set of keys. There’s a pile of garbage Pokémon, a chandelier Pokémon. Even in the Red/Blue “glory days” we elder-nerds speak of, these little buggers adopted derpy names like “snake” and “cobra” backwards.
So, what gives? Why is Pokémon so popular?
Well, buckle up, we’re prepping for a hike down Victory Road. In the first three headers, I’ll highlight the “How’s” like market velocity and timing. Then we’ll scurry through the “Why’s.”
TPCi has evolved into the most profitable media franchise in the world. So far, Pokémon grossed over $88 Billion since her inception in 1996.
Pokémon isn’t just a game or a show with annual releases. It’s a merchandising empire – sewn together with books, collectible card games, plushies, toys, furniture, baby outfits, keychains, cutlery sets, refrigerator magnets, car decals…
You get the point.
In fact, their merchandising branch, Creatures Inc., carries just as much franchise share as Game Freak and Nintendo. They pluck the release deadlines. It’s been that way since February 2001.
When glossing over top media franchises, they all share two common traits. The no-brainer is longevity. Older IP’s leverage wide production windows to jostle new fans.
We can also pinpoint two recent timeframes where people showed heightened media receptiveness. The first was the turning point of the 1970’s, when color televisions started breaking into mainstream household territory. But there’s also a second boom from the late 90’s/early 00’s that Pokémon serendipitously slipped into. It was the revolution of modern “personal branding.”
I can’t stress this enough. Billboarding myself out by wearing a Volcom shirt single-handedly granted me a high school sweetheart in 2003.
But we can dredge up an even subtler similarity. The most successful franchises on the planet appeal to kids. They hone in on age groups where kids begin developing interests, collections, and hobbies.
Here comes the kicker:
A scientific survey revealed a whopping 82% of Pokémon fans were over 20. There’s a polling bias, of course. 10-year-olds aren’t exactly known for filling out questionnaires. The data still rhymes with our overarching narrative.
Anyone born after 1987 will rattle off a favorite Pokémon like a passionate kid raving to their pediatrician about colors or dinosaurs.
Once something breathes life into our childhood, we latch to it for a lifetime. Nostalgia fuels us through difficult times. And Pokémon spans her claws through Gen X, Millennials, Zoomers, and Gen Alpha… long enough to make today’s kids a minority!
She’ll slide her grip on whatever generation comes after 2024, too.
TPCi’s real success story surged when Pokémon Go stampeded mobile devices in 2016. The app broke 5 Guinness World Records in a month. Between its launch on July 6th and the end of the year, PoGo already generated ~$950 million.
Once we raided the streets in an eager frenzy, we realized the resurgence was real. Adult fans spoke more openly about their devotion toward Pokémon, bought more games, and opted into sharing their childhood heroes with their children.
At surface level, Pokémon Go has generated over $5 billion in revenue. However, PoGo’s success snowballed into every branch of TPCi merch. Pokémon’s next two generations of games sailed into Nintendo best-seller charts overnight.
The Ken Sugimori art style is more nuanced than it first appears. Pokémon’s head artist never gives proto-creatures the green light until they feature a blemish that undermines their “cute or cool” factor.
It might sound silly at first, but it produces designs so memorable that neurologists can use Pokémon sprites to study spatial cognizance brain activity.
The craziest part? Game Freak fumbled on this philosophy before gaming companies hired psychologists to bash images into our heads with their beefy branding sledgehammers – or transfer slot machine addiction loops into monetization.
It’s one of the rare scenarios where an artist’s diligence aligns with sheer, unadulterated luck.
But don’t take my word for it. See for yourself. Here’s an image of Pokémon drawn in the Digimon art style. Somehow, it oozes a potent uncanny valley effect:
Sure, it might bug you that there’s a glacier Pokémon or a dragon who’s a literal skyscraper. Kids cherish the silliness of it all. What might seem like lazy design to us sparks imagination and curiosity in the hearts of the innocent.
Japanese storytelling populates a sizable chunk of profitable IP’s.
Japan’s lush folkloric bestiary flourishes under a lens of pride and preservation. Tantalizing fiends and apparitions sprinkle a special umami zest to cautionary tales.
Pushing logic barriers into the realm of imagination personifies the human experience.
Ghastly traditional Yokai tales forge inspiration for popular Pokémon designs. It all started when Exeggutor adopted three friendly faces to pass an unsettling story of everlasting youth.
Not your cup of Sinistea? Careful, he’s a Yokai, too.
If tales of forbidden damsels stir your intrigue… Wait until you hear about the Froslass origin story.
Mawile’s design references a fabled old miser marrying for the wrong reasons. Various fox legends inspire the designs of:
Over 1/5th of Pokémon’s roster brandishes traits from one Japanese ghost story or another. The gameplay premise itself delves into the territory of realizing old folklore legends.
Collective minds yield more intricate results. The greatest accomplishments of mankind sprout when we band together.
Imagine Hydreigon’s drafts without seizing the epic odyssey of Susano and Orochi. It doesn’t work. I’ll prove it. Here’s a Sugimori interview clipping:
Japan is no slouch in preserving the documents of their past. And their cultural outlook on flexible storytelling only strengthens their flame of creativity.
A lot of people bring up Pokémon’s “winning formula,” but what exactly does that mean?
Imagine prospering in a world where your primary responsibility is venturing into the great unknown, befriending wildlife. You’ll entice them with snacks, join them on refreshing hikes, share some scritches… and somehow, the entire socioeconomic system thrives off it.
Pokémon are so ingrained into this universe that they fund universal health care, sports, films, pet salons. Literally everything. You couldn’t chuck a stone at a construction crew without smacking their earnest Dugtrio sidekick.
It’s unsustainable. But, it’s also magical, isn’t it? Pokémon captures the essence of childlike intrigue and imagination. With it, you could escape to a younger version of yourself.
With all the stress in today’s bureaucratic political hellscape, that’s a big deal.
I’ve heard people spout arguments about better RPG’s filling Pokémon’s role. Shin Megami Tensei, Final Fantasy, and Dragon Quest spring to mind.
They felt fun, but they never quite scratched the itch.
Then something dawned on me. I wasn’t wandering a mystical wilderness interacting with the wildlife. I wasn’t feeding my furry companions treats or playing fetch.
Look, I love animals. As a grown man, I think I cried watching How to Train Your Dragon with my daughter.
I take my cats on evening strolls. I spend an extra 15-20 minutes rolling out of bed – because I need to coax my pets off of me in the most gentle manner possible. We do our morning stretch routines together.
Most of us totally geek out about catching a glimpse of a fox in the bushes. You can try to deny it, but how to pet animals in Breath of the Wild resides within my most popular guides.
Pokémon feeds our inner caretaker, from start to finish.
Not only that, but it leans so heavily into the idea that it unlocks another psychological phenomenon:
Pokémon’s 1,000+ fluffy-companion roster satisfies our psychological desire to play digital dress up. We feel like we’re expressing ourselves through our choices.
In fact, the entire Pokémon business model follows a strict dual-release schedule that encourages players to mingle. A handful of ‘Mons can’t reach their full potential unless you trade them. Others are outright unattainable.
While balancing is far from perfect, the sheer amount of unique team building avenues in Pokémon boggles my mind.
I get it. Landorus is busted. Box legendaries strut the highest base stat totals. But that moment when you trap your buddy’s prized, world-shattering Kyogre and slap it with your ultra-swanky Wobbuffet’s Mirror Coat? It’s priceless. Kid me toppled a whole roster of legendaries with a single Dodrio.
Heck, you could even make Youngster Joey’s “top percentage” Ratatta viable.
Turn-based RPG’s never venture into the sphere of player-to-player combat.
Meanwhile, Pokémon’s wide cast nurtures a medley of distinguished traits. Some ‘Mons boast signature moves and abilities. Some foster unique stat spreads or elemental pairings.
In Pokémon, team synergies dismantle the elite. You could build a rain dance team and overcome the fated “Weather Wars.” You can fight for the speed advantage with tactics like Trick Room or Tailwind.
The options are limitless.
Luffy from One Piece draws heaps of character traits from Ash Ketchum, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that both characters became the poster-boy protagonists for top 20 IP’s.
They’re both playfully oblivious, reckless, affable… and pure-hearted to a fault. It’s a template that extends beyond relating to an audience. I mean, sure, we’re reminded of the best parts of ourselves, too.
But a rash decision drives conflict with natural pacing. Somehow, behavior feels both predictable and outlandish. Audiences can foreshadow enough to drive engagement, yet the writers toss mid-episode curveballs.
“You better believe Ash is stepping in to help his Pikachu. Wait, did he just punch Mewtwo in the face?”
We know what’s driving Ash to his decisions, and we adore him for it. His methods, on the other hand, are consistently questionable.
Audiences devour it.
Ash Ketchum shines a beacon of hope. He’s a total normie emanating fervor and drive. He’s brave, yet caring.
Without him, I could still see Pokémon popular enough to sit in the top 100 IP’s, but it wouldn’t crash into first.
Kids look up to Ash.
He’s gone now. He finally went and became the Pokémon Master he set out to be, but we can still pilfer through over 20 years of episodes.
Decades later, Game Freak held sight of their original vision. Despite the natural flow of artists weaving in and out in a tapestry of signed paychecks, Pokémon retains her identity.
Despite the technological advancements we see in the whirlwind of flashier hardware, humanity’s desires remain a firm stone planted in the hardened soil of existence.
In 1996, Satoshi Tajiri transferred his childhood bug-collection fantasy to the screens of millions. Nintendo continued to scoff at the concept until a final product rested before them. In the end, Game Freak laughed straight to the bank. They overtook the second-largest media franchise by over $20B.
Go ahead. Fire up your old Game Boy Color. You’ll still feel the magic.