Nintendo is finally entering the mobile gaming market with the launch of a new Pokémon game in partnership with Google’s Niantic Labs location-based gaming division.
It’s a big step, and a coup for Niantic, which has become a separate division from Google, after the Alphabet reorganization. The game will launch next year on iOS and Google Play. Nintendo said Pokémon will be available “at no charge, ” though it sounds like a free-to-play game.
Under Iwata, Nintendo watched the mobile gaming industry evolve into a $30 billion business over almost a decade before it decided to move into the market. But toward the end of his reign, Iwata changed his mind and put in motion the strategy to move into mobile with Nintendo’s valuable gaming brands. Pokemon is clearly one of Nintendo’s most loved brands, and it could generate a considerable amount of interest among consumers who are waiting for the next big thing in mobile.
“My initial reaction is that this move shows Nintendo does take mobile seriously. A lot of investors, for example, were speculating that mobile is just a side business for the company, a new unit they had to start to appease investors, ” said Serkan Toto, a video game analyst at Kantan Games in Japan. “If that is the case, why the partnership (which includes an equity swap) with DeNA and now Google? Why use one of their top three intellectual properties for iOS and Android? I think Nintendo is sending a strong political message here with this title, and they open up the Pokemon IP to a much, much bigger user base. Seeing this move, I am sure that Mario, Zelda and many other IPs will follow.”
Niantic, which has 12 million downloads for Ingress, is developing the game. Ingress is a sci-fi location game where different factions battle for control of real-world places, such as city monuments.
Nintendo said the game will have Trainers exploring real-world locations to catch, trade, and battle with each other in their search for Pokémon. Players may use a separate Bluetooth device for their smartphone called Pokémon Go Plus, developed and manufactured by Nintendo, alerting them to nearby events (such as Pokémon in the vicinity) with flashes and vibrations, and the ability to catch them with the press of a button.
Additionally, The Pokémon Company and Nintendo have partnered on a joint capital investment in the newly independent Niantic (formerly Niantic Labs, an internal group at Google), which is leading the development of Pokémon Go. Junichi Masuda, game director of the Pokémon video game series at Game Freak, is also contributing to the project.
“Pokémon GO is a wonderful combination of Niantic’s real world gaming platform and one of the most beloved franchises in popular culture, ” said John Hanke, founder and CEO of Niantic, in a statement. “Our partnership with The Pokémon Company and Nintendo is an exciting step forward in real-world gaming and using technology to help players discover the world and people around them.”
The Pokémon Company International, a subsidiary of The Pokémon Company in Japan, manages the property outside of Asia and is responsible for brand management, licensing, marketing, the Pokémon Trading Card Game, the animated TV series, home entertainment, and the official Pokémon website. Pokémon was launched in Japan in 1996, and today is one of the most popular children’s entertainment properties in the world.
In the past, the Pokémon video game series has used real world locations like the Hokkaido and Kanto regions of Japan, as well as New York and Paris, as inspiration for its fantasy settings. In Pokémon Go, players will be able to catch, trade, and battle in the real world by utilizing location information. Nintendo said that Pokémon Go’s gameplay experience goes beyond what appears on screen as players explore their neighborhoods, communities and the world they live in to discover Pokémon alongside friends and other players.
“Our challenge was to develop a great game for smart phone devices that expressed the core values of Pokémon, ” said Tsunekazu Ishihara, president and CEO of The Pokémon Company, in a statement. “Pokémon GO is the answer to that challenge.”