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Pokemon Go’s huge success has me fearing, not cheering, the future of the game

Pokemon Go’s huge success has me fearing, not cheering, the future of the game

Pokemon Go's huge success has me fearing, not cheering, the future of the game

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Nintendo’s recent foray into the mobile gaming space has been super effective, to say the least. And that could be a nightmare for hardcore gamers like me.

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Of course, Pokémon Go forces millions of people to get outside, exercise, and meet people in real life. I won’t deny that it’s fun: I’m a level 13 trainer in Team Valor, and this past weekend I even took part in a Pokémon walk through the National Mall. But the app’s runaway success is proof for developers who have been saying for years, “Mobile is where the future of gaming is.”

So said Hideki Hayakawa, CEO of Konami, the Japanese game publisher that has been the steward of many beloved game franchises such as “Castlevania” and “Metal Gear Solid”. Thanks to this mobile-first attitude, Konami became one of the most reviled publishers in the industry: in October, it canceled the highly anticipated game “Silent Hills” which was to be directed by Guillermo del Toro.

(Also see: How to download, install and play Pokemon Go right now)

I’m not saying Nintendo is going to put all of its eggs in one basket or incubator. The company has already committed to its next NX console, and the 3DS handheld device has been a success. No, I’m worried about all the Nintendo copycats – basically the rest of the gaming industry.

Mobile game development is a low risk, low cost business, creating games for the most widely available gaming platform, the smartphone. And it is a lucrative business, accounting for 85% of all mobile app revenue: $34.8 billion (about Rs 2,33,135 crore) globally.

(Also see: How to play Pokemon Go in India? Here’s everything you need to know)

Pokémon Go could be a fad or a “craze,” as Wedbush Securities games analyst Michael Pachter put it. But think back to the last time Nintendo created a global craze – which had a real impact.

In 2006, the Nintendo Wii console, with its easy-to-use motion controls, became the “it” Christmas gift. People cleared shelves with Tickle-Me-Elmo-like fervor, and the console became a fixture in living rooms, nursing homes, and recreation centers around the world.

More importantly, the concept was quickly seized upon by Microsoft and Sony, who diverted money from other potential projects to produce the Kinect and Move. Microsoft invested half a billion dollars in bringing the Kinect to market, a device that gamers not only rejected, but which actively hurt Xbox One console sales by increasing its cost. The PlayStation Move entered and exited the market with relative obscurity.

Think about it: Half a billion dollars was spent marketing the Kinect, when it could have been spent funding developers and delivering high-quality, rewarding gaming experiences and stories. I have no doubt that Microsoft and Sony are preparing a similar response to Pokémon Go, which has already boosted Nintendo’s market value by $9 billion.

(Also see: Pokemon Go Cheatsheet: 10 things to know about the game that has everyone hooked)

Gamers are already feeling the fallout as game developers shift their focus to mobile. In addition to canceling “Silent Hills”, Konami missed the release of the highly anticipated “Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain” by showing Hideo Kojima, one of the game’s top writers, the door. He came out with his story unfinished and underdeveloped. And what’s next for “Metal Gear,” a high-level postmodern saga critical of the military-industrial complex? Pachinko.

On top of all this, the mobile games market is suffocated by junk games (see “Zenda”, a cheap “Zelda” counterfeit) with in-app purchases that nickel-and-dime gamers with virtual perks that get used to be called “cheats” in video games. It’s not unlike the market before the video game crash of 1983, when successful Atari games were followed by dozens of clumsily put together copycats to make a quick buck.

Yes, Pokémon Go is quite delicious. I’ve added tens of thousands of steps to my daily routine and made several new friends just by participating in walks and Facebook groups. But history suggests the gaming industry will learn the wrong lessons from its success, trying to capture Nintendo’s lightning bolt Pikachu in a bottle at the expense of investing in high-quality titles.

There are as many player types in the world as there are Pokémon. I just hope the industry doesn’t forget about us as it searches for the next mobile blockbuster.

© 2016 The Washington Post

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