Pokemon 20 years in the making is definitely now more than just a phase that kids were going through. Back in the late 1990s, it was difficult to understand why Pokemon caught on with so many people around the world, according to Yahoo News.
But with the benefit of 20 years of hindsight, we can look back and see that it was popular then for the same reasons it’s still so beloved today. These include its multimedia content strategy, its strong focus on collection, and its paper-rock-scissors battle mechanics. Most important, however, is that Nintendo and The Pokemon Company understand how crucial it is to a developing child to feel like they have a comprehension of complex systems that they can discuss and debate with their friends while their parents look on in bewilderment.
Since debuting in 1996, Pokemon has generated approximately $45 billion in revenue. That’s from the games, the feature-length films, and the merchandise. As we look back on the history of this franchise, let’s dive into why these pocket monsters still matter to millions of people even after 20 years in business.
When Pokemon debuted 20 years ago, it was one of the biggest new media launches in decades — especially in the United States. While they were hugely popular games, Red and Blue did not account for the entire Pokemon experience. Instead, Nintendo, Game Freak, and Creatures — the corporate triumvirate that owns The Pokemon Company — entered the market with a massive multimedia strategy that harked back to major toy rollouts of the 1980s and the sci-fi film that turned fandom into a big business: Star Wars.
That led to $75 million in sales in the earliest days of He-Man, but to get to the next level, Kalinske made deals to get his team’s idea for the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe television program onto channels nationwide.
“After doing the television show, we thought we should do a movie,” said Kalinske. “We did Masters of the Universe with Dolph Lundgren. Now, that wasn’t a big hit, but it was additional exposure.”
He-Man also had a traveling show that would stage events at arenas around the country. This was all part of a strategy to expose every type of kid to Mattel’s product, and that eventually turned the blonde barbarian into a billion-dollar business.
“And I think this is exactly what has occurred with Pokemon,” said Kalinske. “Of course, today, The Pokemon Company has even more opportunities for exposure. They can do a YouTube channel and all kinds of things online.”
For the people in charge of Pokemon, the multimedia-marketing playbook established by He-Man was an obvious way to approach launchubg a property like Pokemon in 1996 and then in the United States in 1997. Only no one else had tried this strategy to this degree before in gaming (even though Kalinske was also involved in the development of Sonic the Hedgehog).
When Pokemon came to the U.S., it was everywhere overnight. It was a cartoon. It was a trading card game. Red and Blue were the biggest must-have Game Boy games. Pikachu, the official mascot character of the franchise, was showing up on every possible of merchandisable surface you can imagine.
Nintendo’s designers surface these systems for every kind of player as we’ve seen in Pokemon for 20 years. You can learn how to specialize in catching rare creatures. Or maybe you’ll prefer figuring out the nuances of the breeding system. Or maybe you’ll want to spend all of your time on endgame player-versus-player competitions.