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The Intersect | Opinion

Why Pokémon Go's huge success makes me fear, not cheer, the future of gaming

By Gene Park

July 13, 2016 at 10:58 AM

Nintendo's recent foray into the mobile gaming space has been super effective, to say the least. And that could be a nightmare for hard-core gamers like me.

Sure, Pokémon Go is making millions of people go outside, get exercise and meet people in real life. I won't deny it's fun: I'm a Level 13 trainer on Team Valor, and last weekend, I even took part in a Pokémon walk across the Mall. But the app's runaway success is evidence for developers who have been saying for years: "Mobile is where the future of gaming lies."

Related: [23 pro Pokémon Go tips, from people who spent the whole weekend playing it]

So said Hideki Hayakawa, chief executive of Konami, the Japanese game publisher that has been the steward for many beloved gaming franchises such as "Castlevania" and "Metal Gear Solid." Thanks to that mobile-above-all attitude, Konami has become one of the industry's most reviled publishers: In October, it canceled the highly anticipated "Silent Hills" game that was to be directed by Guillermo del Toro.

I remember people hating on @Konami about mobile & pachinko.
I wonder if those same people are into #PokemonGO? Gamedev goes where gamers go

— Yuichi (@InstallBase) July 12, 2016

Related: [Don’t fall for these dumb Pokémon Go hoaxes]

Mobile-game development is a low-risk, low-cost enterprise, creating games for the most widely available gaming platform out there, the smartphone. And it's a lucrative business, making up 85 percent of all mobile app revenue: $34.8 billion worldwide.

Pokémon Go might be a fad or a "craze," as Wedbush Securities gaming analyst Michael Pachter put it. But think back to the last time Nintendo created a global craze — that had a real impact.

In 2006, the Nintendo Wii console, with its easy-to-use motion controls, became the "it" gift that Christmas. People cleaned out the shelves with Tickle-Me-Elmo-like fervor, and the console became a staple in living rooms, retirement homes and rec centers across the world. More importantly, the concept was quickly seized by Microsoft and Sony, who diverted money from other potential projects to produce the Kinect and the Move. Microsoft poured a half-billion dollars into marketing the Kinect, a device that gamers not only rejected but that actively hurt the sales of the Xbox One console by driving up its cost. The PlayStation Move entered and left the market with relative obscurity.

Think about it: A half-billion dollars went to market the Kinect, when it could have gone toward funding developers and high-quality, rewarding gaming experiences and stories. Instead, what we got was this. I have no doubt that Microsoft and Sony are plotting a similar response to Pokémon Go, which has already boosted Nintendo's market value by $9 billion.

Gamers are already feeling the fallout as game developers shift their focus to mobile. In addition to canceling "Silent Hills," Konami botched the release of the highly anticipated "Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain" by showing Hideo Kojima, one of gaming's finest auteurs, the door. It was released with its story unfinished and underdeveloped. And what's next for "Metal Gear," a high-concept postmodern saga critical of the military industrial complex? Pachinko.

Konami Sipping tea right now 🐸☕️ #PokemonGo pic.twitter.com/MTICA86f7Z — Apple Jacks (@Wiz_Kid_Reyes) July 11, 2016

On top of all that, the mobile-gaming market is choked with trash games (see "Zenda," a cheap "Zelda" knockoff) with in-app purchases that nickel-and-dime players with virtual advantages that used to be called "cheats" in video games. It's not unlike the market before the video-game crash of 1983, when successful Atari games were followed by dozens of copycats sloppily put together to make a quick buck.

Yes, Pokémon Go is pretty delightful. I've added tens of thousands of steps to my daily routine, and I've made several new friends just from participating in walks and Facebook groups. But history suggests that the gaming industry will take the wrong lessons from its success, trying to capture Nintendo's Pikachu-lightning in a bottle at the expense of investing in high-quality titles.

There are as many types of gamers in the world as there are Pokémon. I just hope the industry won't forget us as it searches for the next mobile blockbuster.

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Gene Park is a social media editor for The Washington Post, embedded with Opinions, Outlook and PostEverything.

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