This year marks the 27th anniversary of the release of the iconic role-playing video game, Pokémon. On February 27, 1996, the world was introduced to the first two versions of the game, Pokémon Red and Pokémon Green. Over the past 27 years, the franchise has become one of the most successful media franchises in the world, boasting 23 video game editions, 23 animated movies, one live-action film, three anime series, and dozens of manga series. In addition to the franchise’s extensive media offerings, there is even a Pokémon-themed slot game available at both land-based and US online casinos, solidifying its place as a cultural phenomenon with a lasting impact on popular culture.
It’s no surprise that the Pokémon franchise has garnered an enormous following worldwide, with an estimated two billion people having watched Pokémon movies/series and played Pokémon games over the last 27 years. In fact, this means that every fourth person in the world is a Pokémon fan. But what makes this franchise so successful? In this article, we’ll attempt to answer that question, beginning with a look back at the early days of Pokémon in the 1990s.
The Birth of Pokémon
Japanese video game designer Satoshi Tajiri is the father of Pokémon. When he was in his early 20s, this self-professed video game aficionado came up with the idea of creating a monster-themed game for the GameBoy platform. This explains why the game is called Pokémon – it comes from pocket monsters. The word “pocket” refers to the fact that the GameBoy is a handheld console, which most users carry in their pockets.
Tajiri pitched the idea to Nintendo, whose management wasn’t too impressed with the concept of the game but decided to go with it anyway. After all, they needed something to boost their sales, which were dropping in the mid-1990s.
At first, it seemed they were right to have their doubts about Tajiri’s game. When it was released in early 1996, Pokémon wasn’t met with great reception. It actually took a couple of months for the game to take off, but when it did, it took over the Japanese market.
Mysterious “Mew” & Non-Violence
One of the things that kick started Pokémon in 1996 was that rumors started spreading about a hidden monster called Mew, which could only be obtained by exploiting in-game errors.
The character was Tajiri’s idea, as he wanted to make the game more mysterious, as well as to promote player interaction – they had the option to trade Pokémon and Mew would be the most valuable asset in the game universe. What’s interesting about Mew is that people from Nintendo had no idea about it during the game production. Tajiri created this character on his own, without any help from Nintendo’s team of developers.
Another thing Tajiri is credited with is the non-violent character of the game. Rather than having the monsters die when caught, he made them faint. This way, he made the game suitable for children of all ages, which further helped its popularity.
Pokémon Arrives In America
Just a few months after the release of Pokémon Red and Pokémon Green, it was one of the most popular games in Japan. The company decided to cash in on Pokémon’s popularity, releasing a revamped version later in 1996, as well as a trading card game with all the monsters from the Game Boy version.
In 1997, Pokémon got its first manga version, as well as its first movie. The same year, the first Pokémon center was opened in Tokyo. With so much success in a relatively short period, it’s no wonder that its parent company decided to take Pokémon overseas.
It was 1998 when Nintendo decided to spend $25 million to promote the game in the United States. The campaign involved partnering up with major US brands such as KFC and Hasbro.
The move proved the right decision, especially after the release of the first international version of the game, called Pokémon Red and Blue. It hit the stores in September 1998, sparking a Pokémon craze in America, which hasn’t stopped since.
Pokémon GO Lifts the Franchise to a Whole New Level
The success of the Pokémon franchise continued to grow after its international release, with numerous game editions, movies, and anime series being created. In 2016, the franchise saw another surge in popularity with the release of Pokémon GO, an augmented reality (AR) mobile game that guides players to real-world locations using GPS. The game became a best-seller and was the most popular game of 2016, but its success soared even higher during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, generating over $1 billion for the company.
Another 27 Years of Pokémon?
Pokémon is 27 years old, but it seems that this is only the beginning. The franchise is bound to grow even further in the future, with new versions of the game expected next year. Further, new Pokémon-themed movies are to hit the screens in the years to come, as well as a live-action series produced by Netflix.