Pokémon Go and the Changing Focus of Publishers

Take a look around. In case you haven’t noticed over the past week, America and more so the world has been gripped by a new obsession. Pokémon Go isn’t just the biggest app in the game section of the App Store, it’s the most downloaded app on all iOS and Android devices. People who have never played a Pokémon game over the past 20 years, suddenly find themselves running around their neighborhoods trying lure all the Pidgeys their Pokéballs can carry as they begin their quest to become a world class Pokémon Trainer.The sudden popularity of the game may come as a shock to those not paying attention to the gaming industry, but its further proof that the definitions defining who and what a gamer is to publishers continues to evolve. No longer are publishers confining their reach simply to consumers who buy consoles, handhelds and gaming PC’s. Coming off the heels of the casual market setup by Nintendo’s Wii console, mobile gaming has become the booming compartment of all game sales. According to market research group App Annie, in 2015 alone mobile games generated $34.8 billion in revenue, comprising 85 percent of all mobile app revenue. That number is expected to increase to $41.5 billion this year and reach $74.6 billion by the end of the decade, generating $4 out of every $10 dollars of all revenue for video games.As the industry’s resources for profits have begun to shift, so has the focus of the developers. When legendary game developer Nintendo first decided to break into the mobile market this year, it did something that would have seemed unimaginable to investors until recently; it left its legendary mascot, Mario, on the shelf. Instead Nintendo created a simple social app, Miitomo. The app burst to the top of the app charts shortly after release. Nintendo used the app not so much as a game, but as a tool to gather data about where its potential customer’s interests lay. That data is likely now shaping how Nintendo is developing their mobile games strategy. Instead of a Mario mobile game, they are instead focused on bringing Animal Crossing to market. Additionally, instead of charging users a large onetime fee for a premium game, Nintendo is focusing on creating free to play games with in game purchases.

Nintendo isn’t alone, nor the first to embark on this revolution. Square Enix has been routinely adapting its franchises into “’Game Franchise Title’ Go” products over the past three years. Activision Blizzard recently shelled out $5.9 billion for Candy Crush developer King. Microsoft purchased Minecraft for $2 billion. Even famed World of Warcraft creators Blizzard Studios developed a free to play mobile card game, Hearthstone, which pulls in $20 million a month.No matter how you slice it, the more one observes the industry, the more one can see the changing landscape. Fifteen years ago gamers were something of a niche industry. The focus of developers and publishers was to grab the attention of teen and young adult males. While this sect still exists and is a major source of revenue for publishers, it no longer controls the market with the same pull it once exerted. Instead of risking everything on solely developing triple a titles with high production costs and hoping each game attracts five to ten percent of all home console owners, developers are now more so offsetting the risk of these larger ventures by making simple games designed to work on a product owned by 2 billion consumers, and with no required additional cost of entry to the user.Some gamers look at the mobile games market and to a larger extent free to play games with scorn. They see them as something that’s lowering the quality of games in general. No longer are games developed as being complete, but are instead shipped in a way that will drive players to spend more money than they should have to on a product. It’s an understandable fear, especially given gamer’s previous interactions with DLC content offered for games, and one that we as consumers should continue to keep an eye on. That said, while traditional gamers may loathe the setup of mobile games, they should understand these games not only will bring content to a whole new host of gamers, but also stability to the franchises and products they have grown to love over the past thirty years. Pokémon Go is a perfect example. While Pokémon games have always sold solid numbers, Pokémon Go has quickly transitioned into a cash cow for Nintendo. Shares for the company have jumped nearly 10 percent since the game’s release, with the company reaching stock prices that haven’t been seen in nearly two years. For a company that is struggling to keep it’s foothold in the home console market, products like Pokémon Go are a godsend. Knowing that games like these can become regular sources of large revenue for the company allows Nintendo to continue to do what it’s hardcore fans desire most; take risks and push new innovations. If the price for that innovation is simply making games designed to reach new audiences, traditional gamers would be wise to stop complaining about the new wide focus of publishers and instead continue to encourage new Pokémon trainers to continue their quest to become world class trainers.For more on Pokemon Go and other video gaming news, check out the latest episode of “Geek Versus Games” below.  

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