Pokemon Next: What Nintendo should do after Pokemon Go
Commentary: Nintendo finally has a mobile mega-hit. Here's what's coming next, and what should come after that.
Scott SteinEditor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
ExpertiseVR and AR, gaming, metaverse technologies, wearable tech, tabletsCredentials
Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Why did this happen? Who knows? Maybe it was the horrific week of events that preceded its US launch, leading to some sort of mass psychological phenomenon of escapism. Maybe it's the way viral trends seem to explode all the time, lately. Maybe it combines family-friendly, social and free-to-play ideas in some magic tonic. Or, folks just like Pokemon.
Nintendo needs to keep making more mobile games now. But what, specifically? Here are some things that could happen, and some that already are in the works.
What's already been announced
Animal Crossing: It's already one of Nintendo's next-on-deck mobile games, with no release date set. But it's promising news, and a perfect fit for phones. It was a social network game before social networks, and it is a legend among DS and 3DS owners. You visit towns, collect things, trade things, make friends. It's very kid-friendly. And it's insanely addictive.
Fire Emblem: Nintendo's other announced mobile game in the works will be based on one of the company's most critically acclaimed strategy role-playing series. Who knows what the mobile version could look like, but while already having stiff competition -- think Clash of Clans -- this could still be a big hit. Especially if it involves real-time territory-based strategy. But hopefully it's the door to other games, too. Another classic, Advance Wars, which also involved large-scale land battles, could be a great fit. Imagine landing on an area and battling for control with troops, or even deploying virtual armies across a game map that extends across actual GPS-mapped areas.
What should come after that
Super Mario Maker: Nintendo's great Minecraft-like make-your-own-level Mario game on the Wii U is ripe to be the next killer hit. It needs to be mobile, and collaborative: Imagine making massive Mario levels as teams across the world. It's literally a Mario construction kit. The "maker" idea should be expanded beyond Mario: Imagine all sorts of mobile tools to create DIY levels that could then be uploaded and added to games at home.
Mine the archives: Nintendo has dozens of old classic 8-bit games that it keeps reselling for five bucks a pop on modern consoles. They're already available on mobile in illegal but ubiquitous emulators. So, make an NES classic arcade.
Pluck a few small Nintendo classics: Some Nintendo games are already killer phone apps, like Pocket Card Jockey. It debuted this spring on 3DS, and is a free-to-play solitaire-meets-horse-racing game. I can't stop playing it. Rhythm Heaven is a simple, addictive rhythm-tapping music game, and it could be great on a phone screen. Anyone remember Brain Age, full of fast-action brain and memory challenges? It would be a perfect phone fit.
Pokemon Go still has legs, so put it in everything: Build out Pokemon Go into businesses and currency. I want Starbucks to give me free pokeballs. I want my NY Sports Club workouts to help hatch my eggs. Well, I don't really, necessarily, want these things. To be honest, I'm starting to lose interest in Pokemon Go and its spotty, buggy gameplay.
But I like the idea of a location-based game that makes efforts to pull things in from the world around you. To be a social network, and also a rewards system. Easy does it, I'm sure, because a lot of the hooking-in between various apps could lead to security issues. But in my fantasy, Pokemon Go of the future would feed into other things. It could, maybe, gamify my life. This is the sort of stuff that fitness apps have toyed with and never quite succeeded in. Speaking of which...
Develop wearable killer apps: Instead of Pokemon on my phone, what about Pokemon on my watch? Nintendo already sells a separate $35 accessory that you're meant to wear while scanning for local pokelife. But isn't that what wearables are meant to be for? I get tired of holding my phone up everywhere. A watch app that buzzes seems like the perfect use case for persistent location-based gaming.
P.S., make another game...but don't rush it: Pokemon Go took time to develop, and it's still buggy. Better to bake a good mobile game than rush into another. Nintendo tends to take its time and it should encourage its mobile developer partners to do the same.
Bridge consoles to mobile: Nintendo has lightning in a bottle on mobile, but how does that feed back into Nintendo's own hardware and games ecosystem? Remember Nintendo ID? These games need to eventually find a way to feed back into some social activity or game unlockables on handheld and console systems. Maybe the upcoming Nintendo NX console is part of that strategy.
...and don't worry about these games eating into hardware sales: In fact, I'd say lots of great phone games would make people a lot more likely to buy a Nintendo console. Lots of people playing Pokemon Go are fans full of nostalgia. Others are trying this for the first time. Nintendo can live in both places. In fact, it already is.