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Is it Too Late to Pull the Plug on Pokemon Go’s Success?

Is it Too Late to Pull the Plug on Pokemon Go’s Success?

  • Current Affairs
  • Opinion
With Legendary Entertainment having won the rights to a Pokémon live-action movie, Pokémon Go looks poised to ride the sequel or spin-off convention that many Hollywood franchises seem to follow.

For companies like Nintendo, to call this a lucrative and repeatable formula would not be far-fetched. The company sits on a portfolio of classic games that have defined countless childhoods, and it’s only a matter of time before Capcom, Square Enix and the other Japanese video game developers, follow suit.

Although Pokémon Go was developed by San Francisco based Niantic, the staggering response resulted in Nintendo’s stock price rocketing by 25%, increasing its value by $9 billion. Its mere affiliation to the Pokémon franchise was enough.

But there’s also good reason why these game-to-movie adaptations are so profitable.

Warcraft rode on the overwhelming popularity that World of Warcraft and Defence of the Ancients (DOTA), a Warcraft derivative, continue to command in China. As for Pokémon Go, it blew our collective mind because it spoke directly to our nostalgia for simpler times.

It took us out of our rooms and into the streets. It compelled a complete and almost innocent disregard for those on the sidewalk hurrying to their work, errands and life.

It tore us away from adult pre-occupations, from their well ordered priorities and organised careers. It re-introduced us to the aimless wandering and effortless socialising that defined many of our childhoods.

While it has been cool for some to diss the game, what’s surprising is the pride with which so many grown-ups have plunged into Pokémon Go. Nary have we met a grown man or woman who’s ashamed to be indulging in such childish amusements.

The question that must then be on everyone’s mind is, “What’s next?”

The deal with Legendary entertainment has provided a surprisingly quick answer. At the same time, will Nintendo now begin to set its sights on transforming Zelda into a contemporary, four dimensional experience? Will it create some kind of crazy technology that will allow mobile phones to super-impose the architecture of Hyrule on the faces of Central Park, Angkor Wat and the Gothic cathedrals of Vienna?

Will the world as we know it implode?

At the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, participants got to paint in space with the use of virtual reality. As Pokémon Go and its impending movie continue to hold our attentions and imaginations hostage, it might be fun to think about where VR fits into all this.

I, for one, foresee battles in an actual arena—fights side by side with life-sized monsters, within a virtually fabricated environment that we can inhabit from inside our bedrooms.

As intellectual property rights take centerstage amidst these developments, one wonders if it would be wise for said Japanese companies to hop on the gravy train.

A Forbes contributor, somewhat crudely, called last year’s Pixels (an action comedy featuring classic arcade game characters) “steaming rectal discharge”. The movie, while a critical flop, fared extremely well financially.

And therein lies the catch.

Japan has always made good movies. Take Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away and Madhouse’s Paprika, two of the more celebrated animated films of all time.

So why get in bed with Hollywood at all? After all, it has shown itself to be culturally ignorant towards Eastern cultures, with its often offensive depictions of Asian subjects.

It would be hard not to see Nintendo’s brand being eviscerated as it begins handing over its intellectual property.

Sure, it could potentially make a lot of money. But will doing so bolster the West’s already skewed view of Asian cultural hallmarks? Will Nintendo’s legacy now be defined by the commercialisation of the games that have come to mean more than just entertainment to most people?

It isn’t yet clear how this move will chart Nintendo’s future or even the future of Japanese film, animation or culture. Just earlier this week, Nintendo’s stock plunged 18% upon investors’ realisation that the company did not actually make the game.

What’s clear then is the choice that will eventually need to be made: either the company plays to its strengths (and our nostalgia) while focusing on sustainable, long term gains, or it can hand over the keys to the kingdom to a bunch of white film executives.


Julian Wong Managing editor