“Pokemon Go,” the GPS-crossover game for smartphones, has been an instant hit all over the world, particularly in Japan.
The explosive popularity also means there are numerous Pokemon beginners.
But what exactly is Pokemon? Why has the game proven so popular? And how does the revolutionary system work?
Following are basic questions and answers about “Pokemon Go” and the world of Pokemon:
What is Pokemon?
Pokemon is an abbreviated form of the original Japanese game title “Pocket Monsters.” It started in 1996 as a video game for Nintendo Co.’s hand-held machine Game Boy, featuring 151 virtual monsters that a player can catch, train and exchange with other players.
The most popular and well-known Pokemon is probably Pikachu, a yellow rodent monster with two bright red circles on its cheeks.
The Pokemon series later expanded into numerous products and businesses, ranging from TV animation series, movies, trading card games and countless character goods.
According to Pokemon Co., a Tokyo-based Nintendo affiliate better known as the Pokemon Co., more than 280 million video game software units have been sold worldwide and animated TV shows had been aired in 95 countries and regions as of the end of May.
More than ¥4.8 trillion worth of Pokemon products have been sold over the last 20 years, according to the Pokemon Co.
Why was the original Pokemon series such a worldwide hit?
What was particularly new about the original game was that it allowed a player to exchange monsters with other players via a cable connecting two Game Boy machines.
It worked as a communication tool for children, helping the game to become an explosive hit first in Japan and later in the United States and elsewhere.
Players can also train and “evolve” their pet monsters into rare and more powerful ones, adding complexity and fun to the monster-training game.
The cutesy designs of the virtual monsters, a key characteristic of Japanese pop culture, are another reason for Pokemon’s popularity.
Satoshi Tajiri, the main creator of the original Pokemon game, said in a July 2000 interview that he was surprised to see the alternative monster designs that American staff had proposed for the U.S. market.
For example, the proposed U.S.-version of Pikachu looked like a tiger cat with big breasts, Tajiri recalled.
“I was told (the original designs) were ‘too cute’ ” for American people, Tajiri said in the interview published on a Nintendo website.
“That may have been interesting to enjoy a cultural difference, but I didn’t want to try my luck on it. . . . If the design of Pikachu had been changed at that time, the whole situation wouldn’t be like the one today,” Tajiri said.
Why has “Pokemon Go” become such a big hit 20 years after Pokemon’s debut?
Experts say it is because the concept of the latest game is very new and absorbing.
“Pokemon Go” uses augmented reality (AR) technology, which links a fictional game world to 3-D street maps based on Google’s detailed worldwide map data.
Players are encouraged to walk outside in the real world to find cute monsters and “Pokestops” — locations where players can pick up useful tools for the game — on the 3-D street map.
When a player tries to catch a monster, the smartphone screen switches to show the target character with a real-time video image of the actual world in the background.
Players can feel as if the game and the real world are integrated. This is a new, refreshing diversion from conventional video games, which were usually played only indoors.
The “Pokestops” also feature actual photos of numerous places, such as landmark structures, public art installations, historical markers and monuments.
This enables players to learn about their community, which is another attraction of “Pokemon Go.”
“Pokemon Go” is now available in 39 countries, including the U.S., most of Europe and Japan. Is this helping Nintendo’s profits?
The success of “Pokemon Go” is expected to be a boon for Nintendo, although at present the company is not raking in huge profits.
The revolutionary game system was developed and is being operated by Niantic Inc., which was originally an in-house startup for the Google group.
The San Francisco-based firm was spun off from Google in 2015.
According to Nintendo, the Pokemon Co. “is going to receive a licensing fee as well as compensation for collaboration in the development and operation of the application.”
Meanwhile, Nintendo owns 32 percent of the Pokemon Co. Given the limited ratio of its ownership, the impact on financial results for the Nintendo group will be accordingly “limited,” the statement on July 22 said.
Nintendo at the same time said it will not revise its financial forecasts for fiscal 2016, which ends next March. This immediately triggered a fall in its share price on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.
Nintendo has suffered from lackluster sales of its flagship video game console Wii U and reported last Wednesday a net loss of ¥24.5 billion for the April-June quarter.
Nintendo now plans to launch its next-generation game machine, code-named NX, in March.
Speculation is rife that the game console will feature a detachable part that can be separately used as a mobile game player.
However, whether it will be linked to “Pokemon Go” remains unknown.
There are many “Pokestops,” including little-known landmarks, in “Pokemon Go.” How did Niantic manage to prepare data on so many locations?
“Pokemon Go” is based on a game system originally developed for Ingress, another popular AR game for smartphones that uses Google’s 3-D street map.
Ingress, officially launched by Niantic in 2013, is now played in 200 countries and the app has been downloaded more than 13 million times.
Numerous Ingress players have voluntarily taken photos and offered explanations of local landmarks and submitted them to Niantic to register as “Portals.”
Those locations, if approved by Niantic, are used by players to create a “Control Field” to earn points in the game.
Most of those photos and texts of local landmarks are also used in “Pokemon Go,” thus vast amounts of data were available for “Pokestops” at the time of the game’s launch.