The rapid rise of the Pokemon media empire | Sunday Observer

The rapid rise of the Pokemon media empire

20 November, 2022

Pokemon, an abbreviation of its original Japanese name of Pocket Monsters, needs no introduction as the single largest media franchise in the world.

Currently managed by The Pokemon Company, Pokemon is developed by Game Freak and published by the video game juggernaut Nintendo. In the 26 years since its debut in 1996, Pokemon has rapidly grown into becoming the single highest grossing franchise of all time, with its total revenue calculated at $118 billion. The Pokemon brand has a concrete stranglehold on multiple media markets including video games, trading cards, anime and manga.

The idea for Pokemon was first conceived by Japanese video game designer Satoshi Tajiri from his childhood hobby of bug collecting in the rural parts of Japan. Tajiri was inspired to create a game for the successful Game Boy console taking advantage of its link cable feature, which enabled two Game Boys to link and interact with one another.

Laborious process

Tajiri envisioned a game that could allow players to explore and collect creatures, trading them with friends to complete their collections. Though Nintendo was sold on the idea, the process of developing what would eventually become Pokemon was laborious, taking six years to produce. Veteran developer and creator of Mario, Shigeru Miyamoto had taken interest and mentored Tajiri through its development, but by the end of it, Game Freak was teetering on bankruptcy and most of its already tiny team had left.

The result was Pokemon Red and Green (Blue in the US), the first generation of Pokemon games from what is currently on its ninth iteration. Though the games had some fun, never before seen gameplay elements, the true draw of Pokemon was the community aspect.

Through a link cable, players were able to pit their collected team of Pokemon against each other. They were also able to trade Pokemon, which they usually had to do in order to complete their collection, as there were several creatures exclusive to a version and some could only be obtained from another game.

Rumours about certain aspects about the games, such as obtaining the enigmatic Mew, the game breaking Missingno or the Lavender Town theme, drew a lot of attention to what would have otherwise been a decent game created on a dead console. Quickly, Pokemon grew into becoming one of Nintendo’s flagship titles, and is currently the third most popular video game franchise of all time, just behind Tetris and Mario.

Though the games on its own have proved to be the backbone of Pokemon’s massive media franchise, what truly made it popular was all the other Pokemon things based off it. Though the games were expected to fail prior to release, the initial reception made the true profit potential of Pokemon very clear, and everyone jumped very quickly to capitalize on it.

Card game

Within a few months of the game’s first release, a trading card game was created. Simply titled the Pokemon Trading Card Game, it has consistently been cited as one of the most popular in the market, alongside Magic the Gathering and Yu-Gi-Oh!. Massive tournaments for the Pokemon TCG are still being held to this day, and it’s spawned multiple video games of its own.

The first episode of the Pokemon anime was released just one year from the game’s first release. Since then, the Pokemon anime is still ongoing, with over 1000 episodes aired across 192 countries and is widely regarded as the most successful video game adaptation of all time. The anime has spawned many of its own spin offs, specials, variety shows and over 20 feature length movies.

The Pokemon anime is also considered to be responsible for introducing anime to audiences around the world, especially in the US, where the highest grossing anime movies are still from Pokemon. Its popularity in the 90s led to the proliferation of many other Japanese anime and other media globally. Though more recently, the ubiquity of Pokemon has somewhat died down, but any major Pokemon related release garners massive attention from around the world, as was the case with Pokemon Go and the newer main line games.