“Meowth! That’s Right!”: A Look at Pokémon Fan Content

The phenomenon of Pokémon has evolved and thrived for more than twenty years, the longevity of its global success has been due to a multitude factors, but in large part, it is due to the games international fan base. Pokémon is the brainchild of Tajiri Satoshi of Game Freak Incorporated which saw massive success in Japan and later on globally due to the marketing of Nintendo.

The purpose of this paper will be to analyze the fan community and fan made content, in juxtaposition with the development and marketing of the games by Nintendo. Nintendo’s approach to game development was to adopt the Japanese principals of kawaii or cuteness and as such the appeal of their game, Pokémon, has a broad multi-generational appeal.  The game has action and competition without excessive violence .The fan base of the game is a global acceptance and adoration of cuteness of the Pokémon characters.[1]  The animations of the Nintendo characters, Pikachu et al. and the score of accompanying consumer products have a universal appeal. The initial release of the first Pokémon game in 1996, Pokémon Red and Green, in Japan, created a huge demand for further development of the Pokémon franchise, the Pokémon games, Red and Blue, were subsequently released in North America and worldwide in 1998 and consequently were followed by comics, an animated television series and full length cinematic productions, all of which were supported and /or exploited by vast and diverse consumer goods, from t-shirts to stuffed animals and so on.

Nintendo has released numerous main series games that adhere to the formulas introduced in 1996 and many spin–off games over the past twenty years and the Pokémon franchise has become an industry in its own right. Nintendo answered the fan demand with new Pokémon, new worlds to explore and improved graphics and audio. Nintendo’s promotional material for the games focuses on the activities of catching Pokémon, making friends with them, the competition of battling with the Pokémon and in turn, they combined it with the adventure of exploring a new world. The franchise promotes the theme that pokémon are not a means to an end; they are not there to serve their master but to work alongside one another. Pokémon although it entails battles, is a non violent game and as such has broad multi-generational appeal. The initial games introduced some one hundred and fifty Pokémon and with the new versions there are now approximately eight hundred Pokémon.

Pokémon has been highly marketed by Nintendo; the fan consumer base for Pokémon games and the fans love for the characters have created a vast market for products. Nintendo has responded to fan demands for the creation of new characters and new worlds but in essence the story lines are repetitive and follow the same themes, just with the introduction of new Pokémon and a change of surroundings. In response to new games, fans, in general, seem to be content with the familiar format; it is the story of good and evil told through an innocent character who wants to become a Pokémon trainer, they encounter evil, through the negative forces who want to use Pokémon for selfish purposes. The inevitable Pokémon battles between good and evil take place, the innocent rises to the opportunity and good invariably defeats evil and all live happily ever after.  Nintendo introduces a new Pokédex for each new version and does make slight improvements to the gameplay, itself.

The Pokémon Company International is a subsidiary of the Pokémon Company of Japan, which are both under the Nintendo umbrella of companies. As an enterprise it oversees the international distribution of games, comics, television programming, movies and all relevant Pokémon material. Pokémon has become its own industry given its worldwide popularity.

The Pokémon products are targeted towards children and adults who grew up alongside the multi-media franchise.  Nintendo had run into issues following the fourth and fifth generation of  games, there was a need to reinvigorate the games as the games names sake, the pokémon, were viewed as unimaginative, the gameplay had become stale and therefore the games were not as successful as previous iterations. In recent years, Nintendo has implemented new features and re-imagined older pokémon designs in an attempt to attract an adult demographic and to lure back former Pokémon fans.  An example of the aforementioned would be the launch of Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire a remastering of the Pokemon titles, Ruby and Sapphire that were released in 2002.   Although these games were simply updated versions of the 2002 releases they had sales figures on par with the newest generation of Pokemon games, Pokemon X and Y. The games had an appeal to an older, twenty something demographic that had initially played Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire, as young children.[2][3] 2016’s Pokémon Go had immense success because it targeted not only fans of the franchise but also drew in a wide variety of people of differing age groups. It revitalized the Pokémon franchise, as it was no longer required to have a Nintendo console and anyone who had a phone, could now play.  Subsequently the newest generation of Pokémon was released, Pokémon Sun and Moon which piggy-backed the enthusiasm raised by Pokémon Go. The Pokémon Company has been able to rekindle their old fan base and continue to attract new fans.

 

Fans of franchises tend to be loyal and are inclined to produce derivative versions of the original content as a means of appreciation or adoration of the game however this is not generally reciprocated by the game manufacturers or publishers. Fans of the Pokémon games have produced works, as a way of influencing or asking for the implementation of certain features, within the game. An example of this would be the simplified use of HMs to overcome obstacles and progress through the overworld, facilitating the gameplay. In another instance, they failed to listen to fan requests concerning the feature of having the lead Pokémon follow the player around in the overworld, which was included in Heart Gold and Soul Silver but was removed from subsequent games. The inclusion of these desired features; alongside the demand for the creation of more Pokémon games, has lead people to create their own content, such as Pokémon Uranium.  Games such as these adhere to the traditional Pokémon game design and themes but introduce new features, original assortments of Pokémon and mature content.  Nintendo does not accept fan produced content and strongly enforces the EULAs published on their games. Pokemon Uranium was halted within a matter of weeks of its introduction. The newest Pokemon games, Sun and Moon, introduced alolan forms of selective pokemon from the original one hundred and fifty-one. The fan community produced numerous ideas for potential alolan forms which Nintendo did not even acknowledge.  Fan based content is not made with the intention of replacing a game but is an homage to the original game.  The rejection of fan made content by Nintendo has lead to disappointment and unrest within the fan community.

Nintendo is extremely controlling when it comes to the image of Pokemon, only giving exclusives to specific news outlets like Coro Coro or their own website pertaining to new content. Nintendo and the Pokemon Company oversee an array of licensing agreements for all of the Pokemon products sold throughout the world. Fans are huge consumers of all of the products manufactured from stuffed animals to bandages. Pokémon is a multi-million dollar industry and as such Nintendo wants to protect its image and its greatest asset, the game and its future. Nintendo has a calculated strategy for the longevity of the product.

Fans form a social network based on a shared common passion for the Pokémon games and it is evident that the fan community is dedicated to the franchise and its continued progression. Pokémon could not have thrived for twenty plus years without a active fan base and a continued demand for the evolution of the games. Nintendo’s vision of the Pokémon franchise is shared with the fans however they have to be more accepting of the fan community’s opinions.  It is evident that there is a need for a greater rapport between Nintendo, The Pokémon Company and its fans and to establish new avenues for fans to provide reciprocal communications and ideas for further development of the games.

 

 

Works Cited

  1. Official Pokémon website. Pokemon Company International.
  2. Lambirth, Andrew. “Review of Pikachu’s Global Adventure: The Rise and Fall of Pokemon.” British Journal of Educational Studies, vol. 53, no. 4 (2005): 489-491.
  3. “10 Wanted Sun/Moon Alolan Forms.” Youtube, uploaded by The Jwittz, 25 September 2016.
  4. “Top Selling Title Sales Units.” Nintendo Company Japan, 31 December 2016.
  5. Pales, Eli. “Pokemon Games are Selling to an Older Demographic in Japan.” Nintendo Enthusiast, 1 December 2014.

 

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“Meowth! That’s Right!”: A Look at Pokémon Fan Content

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