New 'Pokémon' games sold over 1 million copies in a single day: Why is it still so popular?

Rewind to the late ’90s. Like any time period, it was filled with fads: Tamagotchi and Giga Pets, Old Navy tech vests, the Macarena, JNCO jeans and the all-mighty Pog. And like the pet rocks and snap bracelets of preceding decades, most turn-of-the-millennium trends fizzled out like a can of citrusy Surge soda. But one craze managed to dodge the bullet of short consumer attention span, and is still going strong over a decade later: those super-cute critters from Japan, Pokémon.

Last Sunday, the newest pair of Pokémon video games, Pokémon Black Version and Pokémon White Version for the Nintendo DS, was released in North America — and shattered the 15-year-old franchise’s sales records. In just one day, 1.08 million units were sold. The previous Pokémon one-day sales record, 780,000, was set by Pokémon Diamond Version and Pokémon Pearl Version in 2007. Behind MarioPokémon is Nintendo’s most popular property.

What started out as a couple of Game Boy video games in 1996 has exploded into an international, multibillion-dollar media empire. The original games were released in North America in 1998, and since then, Nintendo has cranked out over a whopping 60 Pokémon video games, an animated TV series (now in its 14th season), over a dozen feature films, comic books, a trading card game, a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon (which celebrated its tenth appearance in November) and a squad of jet planes.

So what, you may be asking, gives Pokémon its unholy death grip on the American populace? Let’s break it down:

Kid-tested, kid-approved. It’s no secret that kids make up a big chunk of the Pokémon-consuming population. As Tony the Tiger’s taught us, children respond positively to cute, cartoon mascots, and Pokémon are as cute as the dickens. Unlike the Power Rangers (too humanoid) or Troll dolls (too naked), Pikachu and the gang are easily transformed into plush figurines, ski hats and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese varieties. Plus, the premise of the core line of games — “Gotta catch ‘em all” — appeals to kids’ competitiveness, as they try to collect all 150+ varieties of Pokémon within a single title, and battle them against each other with their friends.

Adults play too. While older gamers may be taciturn to admit it, many still play Pokémon. Sales numbers like 1.08 million in 24 hours signals two things: (1) When the figure is that big, there is clearly at least some of the 18+ demographic involved; (2) If a game sells that quickly, the public pretty much know what to expect, and they want in. Many Pokémon fans are ’90s kids who grew up playing the games, and they know they’re addictive and often critically-acclaimed.

A sprawling mythology. Like Harry PotterStar Wars and other pop culture phenoms, Pokémon has constructed a detailed universe that encourages an enthusiastic, escapism-seeking fan base. Currently, there are over 600 known types of unique Pokémon creatures, each with its own set of special attacks, habitat and behavior, evolutionary stages and appearance. Yes, that’s 600. It’s truly quite engrossing, and allows people a selection of taxonomical proportions from which to choose a favorite critter. (Surely you noticed at least some of your Facebook friends participating in “Pokémon Profile Picture December“?)

A solid gaming formula. I don’t care if you’re a fifth grader, a housewife, or the road-hardened leader of your local Hells Angels chapter — if you play Pokémon, you’ll probably like it. An addictive strategy game, it’s easy to learn, promotes interconnectivity with other players through Wi-Fi trading and battling, is void of gore and guns, sells for relatively cheap in comparison to many top-line games (the new titles retail for $35), and is nice to look at. Not only has the property done a really good job of infiltrating nearly every realm of entertainment media, but the quality of the video games, the crux of the franchise, backs everything else up and keeps the empire on its feet.

A lynchpin franchise for the gaming world, omnipresent in the pop cultural consciousness, and a money-making behemoth, Pokémon might be — unlike Furbies — in this thing for the long haul. You’d just better get used to it.

So, PopWatchers, are you big Pokémon fans? Or does its continued cultural dominance make you feel like this:


Comments (65 total) Add your comment
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  • Shannon

    My 12 year old hounded me all week about Pokemon Sunday, we were there bright and early and he got his game!

    • I was about half-way through SoulSilver

      when I got elected. Once we get the economy back on track, I’m gonna finish that, then transfer all my legendaries from Pearl and just go NUTS!

      • Steve

        Or you can leave you mom’s basement and get a girlfriend

      • BigBOO

        My parents never had a basement, I’ve been married (to a girl!) for over ten years now, almost make six figures a year, and have been playing Pokemon since the special Yellow version. In. Your. Face. Stevie. Now excuse me, I’ve got the Black version and need to find people with the White so I can catch ‘em all!

      • BigBOO

        Oh – and I don’t have kids either. You know, I’ll never forgive 4Kids Entertainment for canning the voice actors of the show. It may be in its 14th season now but for me it ended at that moment.

    • Color Me Impressed

      Back in ’00 I was a HUGE Pokemon fan(I was in 6th grade, so am I allowed to call that “back in the day” yet?). I think my old Yellow version is still somewhere in my younger brother’s bedroom.

    • chloe

      that is SO creepy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Untitled

    I’m 18, and I’m seriously upset that I don’t have a Nintendo DS so I can’t buy this game.

    • AG

      Let me guess: You also listen to Lady Caca and watch Two and a Half Men?

      • Dan

        AG, that comment was not only beyond stupid, it also wasn’t funny at all.

      • topoopon

        You sound like ex-Senator Alan Simpson who decries those who listen to the music of “Enema Man” (Eminem?) and “Snoopy Snoopy Poop Dog” (Snoop Dogg).

      • Kevin

        AG, wow. Just…wow. We are now all more stupid just from reading your comment.

    • lifeinanutshel

      Ditto! …and I’m 21. Kinda sad? perhaps. But I miss these games! My friends and I still play Pokémon Stadium sometimes :P

    • Woot

      Same, except I’m 19 and in college… I need a friggen DS!

  • jpratm

    i think its a waist of time it came up when i was a kid and now as an adult it appeals less than before its tired and redundant.

    • K

      A “waist” of your time, you say? And tired and redundant?
      Pretty obvious that you’ve never played it.

    • whatevs

      I see that you also found learning to spell a waste of time.

    • Marie

      Or the know how on punctuation usage.

      • calvin

        Actually, it’s “know-how”. Also, usage applies to grammar, not punctuation.

      • Ryan

        Actually, adding a hyphen to “know how” is a stylistic decision. Neither use is wrong.

  • MsSuniDaze

    My 10 year old loves Pokemon. As long as there is a market, they aren’t going anywhere.
    Wasn’t Pog early 90’s?

    • Lily

      I miss Pog…

  • Rob

    I’m in my late 20s, and I bought the latest one this week. They’re solid games. That’s about all there is to it.

  • Zach

    I’m 20 and I still play my old Pokemon Blue completely through probably once a year! If I had a DS I would have bought this! Its a classic gaming formula that you know you can rely on for some fun.

  • Sophie

    Dude, I’ve been a Pokemon fan for literally half my life now. How could I possibly give it up?

  • Sam

    I’m 23 and still playing. Pokemon provides a return to the sheer joy I found playing games when I was a kid and is a wonderful break from my career. It’s fulfilling because it’s awash with nostalgia and fresh at the same time.

  • Nerwen Aldarion

    Oh I remember the Pokemon craze. As a kid I was always one of the ones that went with a fad, I had the beanie babies, the furbies and the gigapets but Pokemon was the first one I did NOT go along with. It just never appealed to me, it was the first time I went against the main stream and not the last, I still haven’t read or watched Harry Potter and I’m proud of it! :-D

    • Color Me Impressed

      Well I feel bad for you, because the Harry Potter series is not a fad, but a literary masterpiece.

    • Anthony

      I don’t know if I would call Harry Potter a fad as its truly some og the best piece of literature out there.

      And at this point, can you call Pokemon a fad? 15 years and millions of units sold later?

  • Le HIROSHI

    POKEMON-san is classic.

    – –

    “Who else remembers this?” . . . EVERYBODY(?).

  • Dennis

    It’s not rocket science. The games are good.

    • MM

      Don’t you mean Team Rocket science?

      (Don’t look at me like that. My little brother’s the fan. I just got stuck watching the anime when I had to babysit.)

  • Erika

    I’m 21 and grew up with Pokemon. Last year I sold my Nintendo DS and all my games. A small part of me is sad that I don’t have it anymore. Growing up sucks sometimes :p

    • Woot

      I sold my games when I was 17… bought back half of them when I was 18…. Growing up doesn’t have to suck!

      • Patti

        I guess I shouldn’t be too worried about my 13 year old still playing. I thought he was getting too old for it, but maybe sticking with it isn’t that bad.

  • Justin

    Cause it’s the best rpg you can buy these days.

  • tickles

    I am 50 years old and proud to say I love Pokemon! My son was born in 1995 the same year Pokemon came to America. When he was little I said he was my own little Alexboo!
    My son is practically grown now and thinks pokemon is silly but I play all the games and will be buying Black and White this weekend.
    I train all my Pokemon to level 100 and breed them. It is interesting and you can literally play 1 game for years. (as I write this I am currently playing Pokemon Fire Red!)

    • jenjenners

      My son was born in 1997, my husband is a gamer of sorts and knew all about Pokemon before a lot of people did. My son was our little pokemon, and I bought him a lot of early pikachu merchandise. ;) As a 13 year old, he still loves playing!

    • Shara

      YAY tickles…50! I am 41 (female) and play Pokemon with my two sons, ages 13 & 9. We have the BEST time! We’ve only been playing since Heart Gold & Soul Silver, then we got Platinum (which is my least favorite of the three I have) and now have Black and White. There has been lots of trading and battling here lately. Haha!

  • Renaton

    I have to say, I never liked the anime, and never got into the game.
    But everyone I know who loved it back then when I was a kid still loves them today.

    The game I can understand the appeal, but the anime just gets on my nerves!

    • lifeinanutshel

      oh it’s definitely some of the worst anime around, but it’s the idea, and the simplicity that is so appealing, and wicked nostalgia-inducing. haha

      • BG 17

        I was just talking to some other parents about this very subject earlier today – I was already too old to get onto Pokemon when it first came out, but now my kids are crazy for it – they won’t shut up! I don’t understand they appeal, but somebody knew what they were doing.

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