1. It's the best thing Nintendo has released, ever (no, seriously)
After years (and years and years) of twiddling their thumbs and ignoring the rise of the smartphone app marketplace, Nintendo got off their butts and released Pokemon GO - an augmented reality game that allows you to become a virtual Pokemon trainer and utilizes your real world geography as your 'map' for hunting and battling Pokemon. In short, this is likely the closest thing we'll ever get to a Pokemon MMO - with the key difference that it's EVEN BETTER THAN AN ACTUAL POKEMON MMO COULD EVER HOPE TO BE.
To be clear - I'm not saying Pokemon GO is a revolutionary game. It's not. It's pretty simplistic and passive - there's little-to-no depth to the gameplay, it has many of the trappings of crummier mobile apps (microtransactions, etc.), and if it weren't for the Pokemon license, absolutely no one would be playing this thing. To back this statement up, Niantic (the developers behind Pokemon GO) had previously created an app called Ingress, that was essentially the same thing as Pokemon GO, but without the Pokemon nostalgia factor (and actually with a lot more features). To say it didn't reach the success of Pokemon GO would be the understatement of the century.
But back to why Pokemon GO is better than any Pokemon MMO - it's not better in any imagined gameplay terms, but it's better AS AN EXPERIENCE. As an experience, Pokemon GO refuses to be trapped by the same constraints virtually every AAA videogame is stuck with - you play alone, it costs $40+ just to begin playing, and there's a high barrier to entry through overly complex, difficult-to-master gameplay mechanics. Pokemon GO has none of that - it's casual gaming taken to the ideal ending point, where the goal is to have fun with others moreso than for you to achieve personal glory through dozens of hours of solitary repetitive work. And achieving something like this has been Nintendo's stated goal for ages at this point - but they were only able to get there by changing tactics and going to where the largest audience already was (phones) instead of trying to draw them into Nintendo's own hardware.
This game alone has caused the tables to turn in a VERY unexpected way...
2. It saved Nintendo
In the years leading up to last week, things had not been going too well for Nintendo - Wii U sales were so lackluster that its replacement is already being lined up a mere 4 years into its development cycle, attempts to launch new IP have been shaky, the company's relationship with the internet (mostly YouTube) has been frosty, and they began posting annual losses for the first time in the company's 100+ history in 2012. Nintendo needed a win, and they needed it to be big.
Saying Pokemon GO is a win is putting it lightly - Pokemon GO is a 1000 ft. grand slam that threatens to engulf the world. In less than a week, it's managed to send Nintendo's stock through the roof, adding $7.5 billion to the company's market value (and counting). And it hasn't even been released worldwide yet - currently, it's only available in the US, Australia, and New Zealand.
It should be mentioned that this isn't purely Nintendo's success - while they own substantial stakes in both the Pokemon Company and Niantic, they don't own them outright. Nintendo will only be receiving about 30% of revenue driven by Pokemon GO - but still, that's not too shabby, given Pokemon GO in the United States on iPhones only is making about $1.6 million per day.
Again, that's JUST iPhone and JUST the United States. Factor in Android and different countries, and estimating the app pulls in tens of millions per day might be lowballing it.
In short, Captain Toad's Treasure Tracker really dropped the f***ing ball in comparison.
3. This fun app that gets people outdoors is becoming enormously, insanely popular
Within two days of its release, Pokemon GO overtook Tinder in daily active users on Android. If it were a mere flash in the pan, that might not be a big deal - but the userbase has only continued to grow, and now it's near surpassing Twitter, one of the mainstays in social networking for the past several years.
This is pretty huge - Twitter has invested hundreds of millions of dollars and nearly a decade to build its userbase to its current state, and Nintendo is managing to potentially beat that after a week. That's INSANE. Firms would pay BILLIONS for even a sliver of that kind of market power - and Nintendo's managed it with an app that forces real life socialization and exercise, which seems more worthwhile than apps dedicated to hooking up with strangers or livetweeting TV shows.
4. It achieved the impossible: a nice gaming community
The only way to really summarize a game's "community" is with anecdotal evidence - you need to get into personal stories and details, in a way that charts and graphs and figures can't communicate. As such, this is vulnerable to oversight or selective vision - but as someone who spends A LOT of time on the internet and has been knee-deep in Pokemon GO for the past week, I've noticed something pretty astonishing: the community around the game is NICE.
To keep it simple, I don't think I've EVER really found a truly "nice" gaming community. At best, I've found communities that aren't as actively toxic and hateful as others, but pretty much every gaming community you'll find has issues with elitism amongst the players, nitpicking, insults (to others in their community and those outside of it), and all other manner of unpleasantness. But Pokemon GO has largely been positive - kind, encouraging, and supportive. It's unreal.
Not that there's a TOTAL lack of vitriol, racism, and general meanness - that's definitely there if you look for it, but it's in such small amounts, it's drowned out by the positive forces that overwhelm message boards and subgroups.
Part of this may be because it's such a broadly appealing game - there are young kids playing, senior citizens, parents, teens, 20-somethings, middle-aged adults, and everything in-between. And, perhaps best of all, the game never really puts you in direct competition with anyone else. You can fight for control of gyms from others, but you never are fighting them directly - and even then, your victory or loss is only temporary, as gyms continue to change allegiances by the hour (so no real hurt feelings when you "lose").
But mostly, I see stuff like this every day and my heart explodes like a lure was just dropped on it.
5. The game WANTS you to be social - and it achieves it.
via Guy Blomberg
A lot has been written and spoken about the positive aspects of Pokemon GO - it gets you outside, it gets you exercising, etc. - but the main positive thing around Pokemon GO is the social aspect - it's bringing people together in a way videogames simply never do. People are gathering together thanks to gyms and lures, and simply recognizing others playing the game while walking around their towns. Sydney's made the news for having around 2000 players flock to the same spot around the Sydney Opera House to catch Pokemon and meet up with fellow trainers - and everywhere you look, you'll find similar (although smaller scale) stories of meet-ups and groups forming all thanks to the game.
There are bar crawls being formed around Pokemon GO, block parties, and parks everywhere are being filled with trainers who are inadvertently being made to socialize with others in nature.
Pokemon GO is just insane right now. This is in Central Park. It's basically been HQ for Pokemon GO. pic.twitter.com/3v2VfEHzNA-- Jonathan Perez (@IGIhosT) July 11, 2016
6. The net effect of Pokemon GO is better mental health
All of these things combined - better socializing, making people go outdoors and travel, and the non-competitive nature of the game - have worked together to bring a probably unexpected benefit to Pokemon GO: improving mental health and well-being of lots and lots of people.
Again, it's the early days of the game, so there are no studies or formal data to draw from - but seeing posts online and speaking to people in real life will lead anyone to the same conclusion: Nintendo has done something truly great (intentional or not) with Pokemon GO. The game forces people outside of their comfort zone (albeit in a gentle way), and that's exactly what so many people really NEED these days.
Pokemon Go is literally making people with depression and anxiety and agoraphobia leave the house and explore the world and socialise.-- Yo! (@jasonjarmoosh) July 8, 2016
in all seriousness, pokemon go is one of the greatest things that has happened to my mental health-- six (@osskov) July 8, 2016
7. All of society is getting in on the game
Maybe the most beautiful part about Pokemon GO is how broadly appealing it is - it's not closed off to a select group of hardcore fans, it's being appreciated by people from every walk of life. And in times fraught with division and in-fighting, it's a thing that seems to be beaming with positivity and inclusiveness. Whether it's friendly jostling about team allegiances, friendly reminders from local authorities, or kids setting up lemonade stands at PokeStops, it's something that's becoming universally-recognized as common ground.
My college town animal shelter is letting kids walk dogs while they play Pokemon Go. I love this new world. pic.twitter.com/h7yIuNtoEC-- Joseph Knoop (@JosephKnoop) July 12, 2016
8. It's not perfect, and that's why it's great
None of this is to say that Pokemon GO is a perfect thing - it's not. The game itself is buggy and has suffered from server crashes, there's a lot of deep and important concerns over privacy settings with Google sign-in, and the game can be distracting to dangerous degrees (with people attempting to play the game while driving or crossing the street). It has a lot of issues - it's a semi-complete app that's still finding its footing. And if this is how great and uniting the game is when it's this buggy, once the server and privacy issues are smoothed out, imagine how much better things could get in the future.
Of course, all the issues could also be signs that it's just a passing fad - it's temporary, it's of the moment, and the heat will die down once the novelty of the game is worn out by the issues plaguing it. And if that's the case, it's kind of wonderful - Nintendo created this brief thing that, out of nowhere, brought together millions of strangers and gave us a few weeks of really fun goofiness. It shows that that's something that's possible - before Pokemon GO was released, most people would have been enormously (and rightfully) skeptical that there would be thousands of people gathering at the Sydney Opera House to catch Dratinis on their phone. And if the Pokemon GO flame burns out fast, we'll all remember this weird moment in the year where everything was fun and new and exciting - and it'll serve as a reminder that it can happen again.
Yesterday a man walking his dog said to us, "Are you catching Pokemon? It really is quite the sensation!" He was literally an NPC.-- Jordan Gibson (@gibsoncomics) July 11, 2016