Now you gotta catch ’em all in the real world.
Nintendo said previously that it is creating five games for mobile in a variety of genres — at least according to partner Shintaro Asako of DeNA West. But nobody anticipated this kind of game, and it doesn’t count as one of the five. The launch is one of the first major changes at Nintendo since chief executive Satoru Iwata died of cancer this summer.
The Pokémon Company said it will create Pokémon Go in partnership with Nintendo and Niantic Labs, the division of Google that made the location-based game Ingress. Presumably, Nintendo will use the underlying location-gaming platform to enable all of us to hunt down Pokémon characters in real-world locations.
It’s a big step, and a coup for Niantic, which has become a separate division from Google, after the Alphabet reorganization. (Google separated its experimental businesses from its main search ads business, with everything now under the umbrella of parent company Alphabet). The game will launch next year on iOS and Google Play. Nintendo said Pokémon Go will be available “at no charge,” though it sounds like a free-to-play game.
Under Iwata, Nintendo watched the mobile-gaming industry evolve into a $30 billion business over almost a decade before it decided to move into the market. But toward the end of his reign, Iwata changed his mind and put in motion the strategy to move into mobile with Nintendo’s valuable gaming brands. Pokémon is clearly one of Nintendo’s most loved brands, and it could generate a considerable amount of interest among consumers who are waiting for the next big thing in mobile.
“My initial reaction is that this move shows Nintendo does take mobile seriously. A lot of investors, for example, were speculating that mobile is just a side business for the company, a new unit they had to start to appease investors,” said Serkan Toto, a video game analyst at Kantan Games in Japan. “If that is the case, why the partnership — which includes an equity swap — with DeNA and now Google? Why use one of their top three intellectual properties for iOS and Android? I think Nintendo is sending a strong political message here with this title, and they [are opening] up the Pokémon IP to a much, much bigger user base. Seeing this move, I am sure that Mario, Zelda, and many other IPs will follow.”
Niantic, which has 12 million downloads for Ingress, is developing the game. Ingress is a sci-fi location game where different factions battle for control of real-world places, such as city monuments.
Nintendo said the game will have trainers exploring real-world locations to catch, trade, and battle with each other in their search for Pokémon. Players may use a separate Bluetooth device for their smartphone called Pokémon Go Plus, developed and manufactured by Nintendo, that alerts them to nearby events (such as Pokémon in the vicinity) with flashes and vibrations. Players can then catch them with the press of a button.
Junichi Masuda, the game director of the Pokémon video game series at developer Game Freak, is also contributing to the project.
“Pokémon Go is a wonderful combination of Niantic’s real-world gaming platform and one of the most beloved franchises in popular culture,” said John Hanke, the founder and CEO of Niantic, in a statement. “Our partnership with The Pokémon Company and Nintendo is an exciting step forward in real-world gaming and using technology to help players discover the world and people around them.”
The Pokémon Company International, a subsidiary of The Pokémon Company in Japan, manages the property outside of Asia and is responsible for brand management, licensing, marketing, the Pokémon Trading Card Game, the animated TV series, home entertainment, and the official Pokémon website. Pokémon was launched in Japan in 1996 and today is one of the most popular children’s entertainment properties in the world.
In the past, the Pokémon video game series has used real-world locations like the Hokkaido and Kanto regions of Japan, as well as New York and Paris, as inspiration for its fantasy settings. In Pokémon Go, players will be able to catch, trade, and battle in the real world by utilizing location information. Nintendo said that Pokémon Go’s gameplay experience goes beyond what appears on screen as players explore their neighborhoods, communities, and the world they live in to discover Pokémon alongside friends and other players.
“Our challenge was to develop a great game for smartphone devices that expressed the core values of Pokémon,” said Tsunekazu Ishihara, the president and CEO of The Pokémon Company, in a statement. “Pokémon Go is the answer to that challenge.”