Opinion: How Nintendo gets all the credit and none of the blame for Pokemon Go

The unique arrangement between Nintendo, Niantic, and the Pokemon Company presents a nearly bulletproof way for Nintendo to approach mobile development.

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After years of bouncing between ignoring and turning up its nose at mobile games, Nintendo broke onto the mobile gaming scene in a big way with the release of Pokemon Go in early July.

Well, they did, and they didn't.

Nintendo did not develop Pokemon Go. Niantic Labs did. Nintendo's not even the game's distributor; The Pokemon Company handles that. Yet out of all the parties who get a cut of the Pokemon Go pie, Nintendo claims the largest slice at 31.11 percent of sales on the App Store (above Apple, which gets an even 30 percent) and the same percentage of sales from the Google Play Store, second only to Google's 53.33 percent.

This has effectively made Nintendo bulletproof: they reap the rewards for Pokemon Go's success, and shoulder none of the blame for its faults.

Pokemon Go is on the verge of taking over the world. It's been the most-downloaded game on Apple's Free and Top Grossing charts since it launched, has repurposed incongruous locations from churches and museums to private residences into meeting places, surpassed Twitter on Android for most active users, passed over "porn" as Google's most-search-for keyword, and captured the attention of mainstream press outlets as easily as the greenest trainer captures a Magikarp.

Who gets all the praise for those and other accomplishments? Nintendo.

Positive buzz is icing on the cake. Pokemon Go strapped a rocket to Nintendo's stock, jumping 10 percent just 48 hours after the game's debut and 45 percent a few days later, a 52-week high. Financial experts ran some numbers and concluded that, assuming Pokemon Go holds its perch at the top of the mountain, it'll generate $1 billion in annual sales—$311 million of which goes straight into Nintendo's pocket.

The flip side of the coin is as scuzzy as the first side is bright and shiny. Pokemon Go has almost as many problems as there are officially recognized Pokemon. Server issues, permissions snafus that grant the game full access to your Google account on iOS systems (Niantic issued a statement clarifying that the app doesn't grab any info beyond your user ID and email address, and the error has since been fixed), spacey players walking into carefully orchestrated armed robberies and allegedly discovering dead bodies, and innumerable glitches.

On top of all that, the game is vacuous. You walk around, wait for a critter animated in slapdash fashion to appear, tap and swipe a few times, and that's it. There's more involved in battling trainers at gyms, but make no mistake, the bulk of your time, and the foundation of the experience, is spent shambling blindly into traffic and hunting for Pokemon.

Niantic, not Nintendo, catches the flak for the game's security holes. In the same breath, legions of players and critics praise Nintendo for revolutionizing mobile gaming. Except they didn't. They ensconced themselves in layers of plausible deniability, a bunker in which they can weather the most severe storm and emerge without a scratch and, incontrovertibly, a more posh bunker.

Compare that to the backlash over Miitomo, developed jointly by Nintendo and DeNA, earlier this spring. A social network in all but name, Miitomo garnered one million users in three days and precipitated an eight percent jump in stock. A month later, it was pulling in $280,000 a week in revenue thanks to an active user base of four million.

Therein lies the difference between Miitomo and Pokemon Go: Miitomo shed users almost as quickly as it gained them. After customizing your avatar and answering a few inane questions, there's not much to do. Pokemon Go, for all its shortcomings, has ways to keep you entertained for more than a few hours, days, even weeks depending on how frequently Niantic (not Nintendo) pushes out new mechanics to try and Pokemon to find.

Investing 101 dictates that those who spend money, make money. Nintendo has invested millions in Pokemon—from 20 million to help Niantic Labs get off the ground, to its 33 percent stake in The Pokemon Company. Now it's enjoying all the highs and none of the lows, and it's just getting started. Nintendo has posted job openings for in-house mobile developers—perhaps to work on its forthcoming Animal Crossing and Fire Emblem entries for smartphones and tablets, or perhaps other projects entirely.

However, when it comes to mobile games, maybe Nintendo should stay in its bunker and reap the rewards. The company has built a comfortable nest egg of billions and remained a powerful force in the industry by keeping their brightest minds laser-focused on developing software for proprietary hardware.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Let Niantic, DeNA, and other mobile companies assume the risk of putting out nominal video games based on Nintendo properties, while Miyamoto & Co. continue doing what they do best--all the while riding the highs of mobile gaming without getting weighed down by any of the lows.

Header image courtesy of The Verve

Long Reads Editor

David L. Craddock writes fiction, nonfiction, and grocery lists. He is the author of the Stay Awhile and Listen series, and the Gairden Chronicles series of fantasy novels for young adults. Outside of writing, he enjoys playing Mario, Zelda, and Dark Souls games, and will be happy to discuss at length the myriad reasons why Dark Souls 2 is the best in the series. Follow him online at davidlcraddock.com and @davidlcraddock.

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From The Chatty
  • reply
    July 13, 2016 6:00 AM

    David Craddock posted a new article, Opinion: How Nintendo gets all the credit and none of the blame for Pokemon Go

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      July 13, 2016 7:50 AM

      gaping security holes why do people keep parroting this misinformation?

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      July 13, 2016 8:23 AM

      You could say the same about the LAST mobile phenomena that changed the way we play games and let in a floodgate of non-gamers into the fold: TETRIS, on the Gameboy, which originially was a PC game made by a Russian dude but Nintendo got all the credit.

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        July 13, 2016 10:29 AM

        Yep. Not so different!

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        July 13, 2016 2:59 PM

        I don't recall Nintendo getting credit for Tetris, outside of it being on their system. It was always a puzzle game made by "that Russian dude".

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      July 13, 2016 10:47 AM

      Should I see stuff on the map when I walk around? I see nothing, just the roads.

      http://chattypics.com/files/iPhoneUpload_wjskstwawz.jpg

      I don't know what I'm looking for. Do I just walk around aimlessly until I find something?

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      July 13, 2016 10:56 AM

      Niantic really gets all the credit in my eyes but perhaps that's because I know Ingress and understand that what they built is largely their genius and basically only layered with Pokemon as a concept?

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        July 13, 2016 11:10 AM

        I agree. Thing is, look around and you'll see most players and outlets giving props to Nintendo. Just something I found interesting, and it got me thinking about how they could handle farming out their properties to mobile developers in the future. They stay in the limelight (especially in the eyes of detractors who gave them grief for waiting so long to get into mobile development), and let blame for problems slide off their shoulders and onto the developers actually responsible for making the games.

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          July 13, 2016 12:00 PM

          Eh, yeah, that happens. All the times I did something right when I worked in games, the devs got props. When shit went wrong, it was me, personally. That applies to a lot of stuff, I think.

          For people who want to create games like this in the future, it matters that Niantic's logo is first. It's kind of like how the Why So Serious ARG is thought of as Batman even though 42 Entertainment is the brain child - but that (and all the other ARGs they did before that got them the Batman deal) is what matters to their business.

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            July 13, 2016 12:06 PM

            I think a big part of the reason why Nintendo is getting props is that people associate them with Pokemon as intrinsically as they associate Nintendo with Mario and Zelda... even though Nintendo has only ever PUBLISHED Pokemon games. Still, that link makes sense. Up until now, Pikachu and friends were only found (pun!) on Nintendo hardware.

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              July 13, 2016 2:20 PM

              Yeah I don't think that distinction is well known. I would have assumed Pokemon was just as much owned by nintendo as mario and zelda.

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        July 13, 2016 11:42 AM

        the average gamer doesnt know how shit works though

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        July 13, 2016 11:55 AM

        why is your name purple

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          July 13, 2016 11:56 AM

          a chromeshack feature apparently

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            July 13, 2016 12:05 PM

            the worst chromeshack feature

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              July 13, 2016 12:08 PM

              Pretty much only useful for staff at this point, and even then I haven't gotten around to adding a lot of the newest additions :/

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        July 13, 2016 12:54 PM

        Go is basically Ingress with a Pokemon skin.

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          July 13, 2016 2:12 PM

          A skin With 21 years of history

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            July 13, 2016 2:22 PM

            It's almost like branding matters to consumers.

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        July 13, 2016 2:26 PM

        This is how it works with everything though. People remember who popularized things and connected them with it. We can only hope that the real creative forces retained enough ownership in their creation that they're making their money behind the scenes.

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      July 13, 2016 1:01 PM

      I love going out hunting for Pokémon, but god dammit this app is a piece of shit. After yesterday's update it keeps crashing. So frustrating.

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        July 13, 2016 1:08 PM

        It's actually gotten better for me each day that goes by.

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          July 13, 2016 1:12 PM

          Seriously, I had no problems what so ever until I downloaded the update. Freezes every other Pokémon I try to catch.

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            July 13, 2016 1:13 PM

            I had that happen on my lunch break. Game froze. When I came back I did capture the Pokemon tho heh.

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              July 13, 2016 1:16 PM

              Yeah, if you're lucky you still get it. I had to restart the game four times to actually catch a CP385 Parasect that suddenly showed up. I was so affraid it would run away!

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      July 13, 2016 1:07 PM

      Does anyone know how to win gym battles? How the hell is my 1 Pokemon supposed to beat 3? I see no way to swap out or heal during battle. I feel like I'm missing something.

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        July 13, 2016 1:10 PM

        When you go into a gym battle you should be picking a full roster of 6, unless it's a friendly controlled gym?

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          July 13, 2016 1:11 PM

          This one was friendly. But I've had this problem before. Then again, it's so rare to actually be able to complete a gym fight cuz they usually freeze up with the other guys hp hits zero.

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            July 13, 2016 1:15 PM

            If it's friendly you can only send in one and it level's up the gym's prestige so that you can station more pokemon there.

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              July 13, 2016 1:17 PM

              I beat2 out of the 3 there. Only had my one Pokemon to fight. I have to beat all 3?

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                July 13, 2016 1:18 PM

                Not 100% sure as I haven't tried to train at many friendly gyms. On the summary screen after the fight it should tell you how much XP you gained and how much prestige the gym got though.

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                July 13, 2016 1:39 PM

                No. You can just fight one, run away, and repeat. For every pokemon you beat, you raise the gym prestige. Eventually the gym levels up and you can station your pokemon in the gym.

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                  July 13, 2016 1:54 PM

                  Interesting. Thanks for the tip

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                    July 13, 2016 1:56 PM

                    Same thing applies for fighting enemy gyms. If you can fight and beat just one pokemon, you lower the presitige and eventually the number of pokemon that gets stationed there drops one by one (from weakest to strongest). Of course, if you can't beat the weakest pokemon, then that’s a moot point

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                  July 13, 2016 3:00 PM

                  Why don't they explain any of this shit in the game? I just hit level 5, entered a gym and sat there and got my ass beat by some beastly bird. No on boarding process at all. HOW DO I POKEMAN?

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      July 13, 2016 2:43 PM

      ..the bulk of your time, and the foundation of the experience, is spent shambling blindly into traffic and hunting for Pokemon.

      seems a tad hyperbolic

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          July 13, 2016 2:58 PM

          Take 20 million random people (the estimated number of daily pokemon go users). What do you think the odds are at least one of them is going to find a dead body or get hit by a car? My guess is it's pretty high.

          It's not unreasonable to say that people using the app are more likely to be distracted and so more likely to get into accidents, but I'm pretty sure that's not what makes up the bulk of users' time or the foundation of the experience.

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          July 13, 2016 4:08 PM

          Idiots will always hurt themselves on their phone. This article is pretty stupid

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        July 13, 2016 2:51 PM

        About an hour ago, I had 3 morons running around staring at their phones blindly sprint in front of my car as I was leaving a parking lot and turning onto a busy street

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      July 13, 2016 5:18 PM

      Who the hell can I blame when I traverse the earth for an undiscovered pokemon. I then use the upgraded ball and the berries to catch it and then my shit locks up. I actually sweated today. Still salty.