Pokemon Go is a certified hit. What's Nintendo's next play?

The idea of Link or Mario running around on your phone seemed like a no-brainer to everyone but Nintendo. The success of Pokemon Go may be proof that it should rethink its stance.

Ian Sherr Former Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. At CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
Ian Sherr
2 min read

The tech world has said "We choose you!" to Pokemon Go. How will Nintendo respond?

Jason Cipriani/CNET

Nintendo has become king of the app world, but how long it stays there is an open question.

The Japanese video game giant, known for its Super Mario Bros. and Legend of Zelda franchises, has an unqualified success on its hands with its latest mobile game, Pokemon Go.

It's been less than a week since the game's launch on July 6, and it's already racking up some surprising accolades. It's got more users than Tinder, the viral-sensation dating app, and it's closing in on Twitter fast. Some estimates say it's earned more users in a few days than the last Pokemon phone game did in a year. Even the decades-old Pokemon theme song has become a hit on Spotify. And photos from people playing the game have gone viral.

But there's a larger unanswered question. For years, Nintendo has resisted shifting its business toward making games for phones and tablets, arguing instead that there is still value in building specialized video game consoles and controllers. But that changed last year, after the company admitted sales of its latest console, the Wii U, continued to underperform.

The success of Pokemon Go is proof that there may be bigger opportunity to bring its prized franchises over to the phone world, where there are billions of users. Indeed, the buzz over Pokemon Go has exceeded anything Nintendo has put out in the last few years. And really, who wouldn't want to play a Legend of Zelda of Mario game on their iPhone?

Nintendo didn't respond to a request for comment about whether Pokemon Go's success will push the company even further into making games for mobile devices.

Investors clearly see the opportunity. They've sent Nintendo's shares up more than 60 percent since the game's launch, which is good news considering they'd floundered in recent years.

Part of the game's success has been its promise to marry the vast and intricate Pokemon world with our own, albeit in a party trick kind of way. "There is enormous potential," said one reviewer for the Guardian.

Nintendo's first mobile game, Miitomo, saw lukewarm response because it offered players little to do aside from ask their friends silly questions while they accessorize digital versions of themselves, known as Miis. Pokemon Go struck the right nostalgic nerve by putting people in the shoes of a Pokemon trainer, the main characters of the games and shows.

Joost van Dreunen, head of industry watcher SuperData Research, said the game has already pulled in more than $14 million since its launch, and expects more.

Whether this sudden rush of popularity will push Nintendo to make more mobile games is unclear.

"If this is proven to be sustainable, Nintendo will have no other option," Van Dreunen said.

In the meantime, Nintendo will be "catching them all" -- money, that is.

Watch this: Pokemon Go aftermath: Nintendo's stock surges, malware spreads