Why There’s No Rival To Pokemon

So, where's the rival to Pokemon as a game?

I found myself asking this one day for reasons I can't quite remember (though I suspect it was about competing ecosystems of technology).  It's a fascinating question to ask because let's face it – there isn't one.  Pokemon has no rivals in its conceptual space, at least no worthy ones.

Sure, there are imitators of Pokemon, or games that may use some similar mechanics.  Dragon Quest Monsters perhaps comes closest in quality, but it's not the same runaway hit as Pokemon (though I'd say it's definitely it's own thing in the DQ game line as opposed to a derivation).  So where's the rival?

This is a fascinating question to ask, because Pokemon is so incredibly huge.  Those of us making games would obviously want to duplicate it's success – or at least analyze it.  Those of us working in any product-based media could do with a better understanding.

After contemplating the idea for awhile, a few things came to mind.

  1. Pokemon did it right straight out of the gate.  The first games were well-recieved as they were good games on their own.  That holds off competition and puts imitators on the defensive.
  2. The games were tight right from the start, with solid, recognizable mechanics that were understandable and little extraneous content.  The games delivered a direct, understandable, potent experience.
  3.  The games were social.  That was a huge factor in promoting Pokemon and remains one to this day.  It started ahead of many other games.
  4. The games got their formula right.  The Pokemon games know exactly what they're doing and just tweak and work the template, add new Pokemon and so on.  This can create the danger of stagnation, but also creates powerful buy-in and familiarity.
  5. Speaking of familiarity, the games are familiar.  You know exactly what you get in Pokemon.  As it's something people want, they're fine with that.
  6. Pokemon has massive multimedia tie-ins.  This makes everything about it self-promoting, brings in more cash, and creates recognition.  This also ups the social factor – being "into" Pokemon is a social connector.

Pokemon really is a case of doing the right thing, at the right time, connecting people, and keeping a winning formula working – while doing tons of tie-in.  It's a fascinating mixture of precision and going gonzo all-out.

If it has a rival, really, it's itself – and the possibility at some point people will get tired of catching monsters, but I doubt it.

Pokemon also reminds me of World of Warcraft in many ways – done right, maintained, tweaked, and highly social.  WoW has no real rivals either, though people keep on trying.

I think they've sort of given up with Pokemon, and Pokemon-like games are content to be in the shadow of the Game That Got It Right.  I think they'll be there for awhile.

Steven Savage