Amidst the horrors of last week’s shootings and killings in which police served as both victims and perpetrators, only one other topic managed to shake country out of the somber reality of violence in America.
Pokemon Go, the biggest hit since Flappy Bird, allows people to become the Pokemon trainers they always wanted to be. The game, through GPS tracking, places digital Pokemon in the real world and allows people to catch, train and battle them, just as they can in Nintendo’s hit portable games for systems like the Game Boy Color and the Nintendo 3DS.
For only Nintendo’s second foray into mobile gaming, it has been a massive, unbridled success. It was downloaded onto approximately twelve gazillion phones last week when it went live July 6. In less than five hours, it topped the Apple App Store, and the free-to-play game is also racking up buku bucks with microtransactions. One firm estimates it is making $1.6 million per day.
Oh, and it hasn’t even released in Japan, Europe or the UK yet, only Australia and the United States, mainly because players in Australia and the US are playing it so much and so often, Niantic Labs, the game’s developer, is having a lot of technical difficulties from the sheer overload. Europe has a slightly larger market than the US, and Pokemon never really lost much popularity in Japan when it was released in the mid-90s like it did in the United States – aside from a relative handful of diehards (author included).
The business side has also seen big gains for Niantic and Nintendo, the video game company which owns Pokemon. Nintendo’s stock rose almost nine percent Friday, and closed a whopping 25 percent up Monday. The company, which has struggled to compete with other gaming giants Sony and Microsoft, has added $7 billion to its market value with the app. But the finances aren’t the only impressive thing.
Pokemon Go is also a bit of a cultural phenomenon. Social media is awash in people showing off the Pokemon or gyms they find in weird places (like a fountain in the middle of the ocean), their newfound willingness to leave the house and get fit, and about how it’s actively bringing disparate peoples together.
On the other hand, people used to training Pokemon indoors are injuring themselves as they head outdoors in their efforts to be the very best (like no one ever was), some people are using it to rob people, and one girl even found a dead body.
However, little compares to this story in which a reporter got to write a headline they probably never could have dreamed they would write. The Westboro Baptist Church, an anti-LGBT hate group, is a gym location in the game, and now the church is actively trying to win the gym from a Clefairy named Loveislove with a Pidgeot named GodHatesFags.
If I was Japanese, I’d be offended that the WBC was appropriating what is essentially my national animal to convey such vitriol.
The game should also serve as a massive told-you-so to Nintendo that has put out some questionable games over the years and neglected or misused some of its most successful franchises (Pokemon trails only the Mario games, Nintendo’s most famous property in copies sold). The formula was simple. Take Pokemon, make it an MMORPG and watch the money flow in. It seems as if Nintendo not only caught on, but did it better than anyone could dream.