December 25, 2016 1:00 pm JST

Four reasons behind success of 'Pokemon Go'

Producer shares how game app became a megahit

YUJI NITTA, Nikkei staff writer

A mobile screen is reflected on a fan's sunglasses as she plays "Pokemon Go" in Hong Kong on July 25. © AP

TOKYO -- There are four main reasons for the international success of "Pokemon Go" according to one of its architects. 

Tsunekazu Ishihara, president of Pokemon Co., the producer of the megahit game app, told his employees about four phenomena behind 'Pokemonomics'.

Firstly, it is a cross-generational success. The initial Pokemon boom ran from 1998 to 2000. "Pokemon Go" became popular with seniors in their 50s and 60s who bought the original game software for their children. It is also a hit with users who got into Pokemon when they were young. 

"The Pokemon boom of 18 years ago paved the way," Ishihara said.

Secondly, social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, played a key role in making "Pokemon Go" a global success.

"It took two years for Pokemon to boom worldwide 18 years ago, but 'Pokemon Go' spread in a week," Ishihara said. He calls the phenomenon "Pokedemic," likening it to a pandemic.

Third, the rise of unicorns cannot be ignored. These are startups valued at $1 billion or more. Niantic, the game's co-developer, which was spun off from Google, is one such company.

Ishihara said unicorns have a global mentality and management philosophy.

Even though the number of users accessing the game was more than 50 times larger than expected, Niantic's engineers worked night and day to prevent servers from going down. 

Ishihara said he was amazed by Niantic's technical prowess and strong mind. "It's like fixing the engine of an airplane while flying," he said.

Lastly, advancements in information technology have greatly contributed. The spread of smartphones has enabled location-based services, such as U.S. ride-hailing app Uber. "There has been a shift from search business to location-based business," Ishihara said.

Search business was supported by improved transmission and search speeds. Now, however, advancements in the accuracy of Global Positioning System will support location-based business, Ishihara said. 

Despite these four reasons, Ishihara admits the game was a product of chance. Even for a longtime Pokemon architect, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find the magic formula for producing hits. 

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