• Pokemon - How It is Evolving The Gaming Community

    This year marks the 20th anniversary of Pokémon. A property that over the years became as much a social movement, as it was a gaming experience. This platform for players to connect with each other, exploring and discovering together, while transcending language, age, and culture, creating this global community. Beginning in Japan, with Pokémon Red & Pokémon Green, and later Pokémon Blue when it was imported into the West in '98... where it found a massive audience in American consumers, who proved quickly, that this wasn't just another fad, like Tamagotchi. But it all started in 1996, with Game Freak.


    A small team of developers led by Pokémon creator Satoshi Tajiri. And, just to clear up a bit of widespread misinformation...

    This is NOT Satoshi Tajiri. This is current Pokémon Company CEO, Tsunekazu Ishihara.

    THIS is Satoshi Tajiri. The founder of Game Freak. A company that started as a small self-published gaming magazine where Tajiri could express admiration for games and game developers.


    But on April 26, 1989, just 5 days after the release of the Game Boy, Tajiri, with the help of Ken Sugimori, the magazine's artist, turned Game Freak into a video game production company. What drew Tajiri to the platform, was the potential he saw in the Game Boy's linking functionality. That data transfer system inspired a dream, in which he saw little creatures, crawling along the cable, from one game to another, and Tajiri was also a big fan of the Japanese series, Ultra Seven. A show in which the protagonist can fight with monsters hidden inside little capsules And out of those two concepts, the idea for Pokémon was born, with production beginning in 1990, and taking nearly 6 years to complete, Then, by that point, the Game Boy hit a major lull in popularity. But, despite the hardware being nearly out of date by the time of its release.


    Pokémon went on to become one of the Game Boy's most profitable titles. Boosting at sales over 250% after launch. And its popularity spread across the globe, with the still ongoing anime series and the trading card game, each of which simultaneously contributed to and borrowed from one another, shaping Pokémon into being this international multimedia phenomenon, with every kid in the world wanting to "catch 'em all". As a child diagnosed with autism, Tajiri spent most of his free time collecting bugs, and that played a major in developing the mechanics of the game. The concept of collectibility really resonates with gamers: Trophies and gamer score. Every game has collectibles, and sure you can collect things in games like Sonic and Mario, but those coins and rings don't really mean anything. If you have ever played 52-Card Pickup, you know that THIS is not a game; it's a chore. But these collectibles were special; They were yours, something that you can show off to your friends, and they could show off to you.



    That's where the social hook came in, because Pokémon video games come in pairs, each with their own version-exclusive Pokémon. So, with Red & Blue, each game had 11 Pokémon only available on one of the two games, in addition to 4 Pokémon that would only evolve when traded, which made out of the 151 Pokémon, a tenth of them were only accessible by trading. So, through the game's design alone, the community was built from the ground up. It's brilliant marketing, because not only does it promote sales, but it also encourages collaboration, which is required to achieve the main goal of the game. Gaming communities typically get a bad wrap with marketing, especially with pre-order exclusives and bundle exclusives, but with Pokémon's open barter system, as long as you have 1 game, every piece is there for the taking.


    The exclusivity only extends to your ability to interact with other players, and that's laid out for you, right at the beginning with your starter Pokémon. Players are immediately broken up into three categories when introduced to these three Pokémon, two of with you cannot obtain in your own game, at least not alone, and that kickstarts the sociability aspect. You have one SAVE. You pick Charmander, you gotta go hunt for Bulbasaur and Squirtle, but not out in the tall grass, in the real world. You gotta socialize, you gotta participate. It gave a lot of shy kids, myself included, a foundation for conversation. Young introverted people tend to have difficulties with ice-breakers. Pokémon served as a sort of... blanketed interest for most of us, which made it a lot easier to make friends. It's why people go to the movies on a first date. It gives you a topic of conversation. A starting point for the relationship to evolve. Pokémon was designed to be a social experience, even though the Game Boy was very much a device to escape social interaction.


    It isn't just built on the connection with a player and their Pokémon, or a player and their game, but with a player and other players. If two games share data with one another, they're linked forever. When a Pokémon is traded, it remembers the original trainer that captured and raised it. And its stat sheet is branded with that player's name. And of course that alone won't create lasting bonds between people, but Pokémon's encouragement of cooperation and competition will. For me, growing up with these games played an important part in learning the merits of sharing, and sportsmanship. And you get that from athletics or summer camp or church, but, for a lot of people, it came out of this little 350-kilobyte cartridge. I grew up in the 1st Pokémon generation, but now every generation has their Pokémon.


    Every game will be someone's first and every kid will grow up with these characters. That 8-bit journey we started 2 decades ago isn't over. Because there is still so many new people to connect with and so much more to discover.
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