Cantillon: It’s all GO for resurgent Nintendo

Pokémon phenomenon could be a flash in the pan

A man plays Pokémon GO on a smartphone in Tokyo where the game was released on Friday.  Photograph: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images

A man plays Pokémon GO on a smartphone in Tokyo where the game was released on Friday. Photograph: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images

 

What a difference a couple of weeks can make. When Pokémon GO launched on July 6th, no one dreamed how popular it would become.

People currently spend more time on the augmented reality game than they do on Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat. The game has been downloaded more times than Tinder, and it has passed Twitter in terms of daily users. That’s a lot of people hunting down fictional characters in the real world. There are dating services based on Pokémon GO and businesses are scrambling to exploit its popularity for their own gain.

And Nintendo, the games firm that many people had begun to write off, is experiencing somewhat of a renaissance as a result, with its shares soaring, making the company more valuable than Sony.

Pokémon GO, as a game experience, shouldn’t be as popular as it is. The game is buggy, it freezes and its popularity means server issues are a regular occurrence. Playing is essentially a solo activity, although Pokémon trainers may hunt in packs.

Still, that Pokémon GO captured the imaginations of mobile users shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Pokémon as a franchise was built for mobile. But Nintendo has been reluctant, it seems, to go down the mobile gaming route for other platforms. Perhaps it may be rethinking this, and it should.

But it should be careful. Pokémon GO may just be a flash in the pan. In a few weeks time, the urge to catch them all may have waned and people will move on to the next fad.

There are many cautionary tales for Nintendo and Niantic, the game developer. Zynga was once the darling of Facebook gamers, with Farmville sucking in the most unlikely of players and providing a gateway to the world of gaming for those who would never have considered it before.

But where is Zynga now? It has laid off hundreds of staff, seen its CEO depart and its share price plummet.

Words With Friends. Draw Something. Flappy Bird – they’ve all had their moment in the sun and then faded, although with Flappy Bird, that was the creator’s choice.

What Nintendo has that those other companies did not is a back catalogue of games that are well known to players. It has the strong pull of nostalgia as its secret weapon. But it still needs to move fast if it wants to ride the momentum generated by Pokémon GO.

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