Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Collector's Mindset and Why Pokémon Will Never Die

Today was Pokémon Platinum's North American launch date. Platinum is the 12th of the regular Pokémon games and rounds off the 4th generation, so I wonder when we should expect to hear about either 5th generation game plans or 2nd generation remake plans. A lot of people think that Pokémon should just end already -- that they've milked the cash cow long enough and that no one wants more. Around when the 3rd generation was launching, I felt the same way, but now I'm kind of indifferent. Or really, in some way, I want to see just how long this franchise can keep its momentum, especially since it doesn't show many signs of even slowing.

More than a decade ago, when I was collecting the Pokémon TCG along with every other kid in the neighborhood, my father told me that these sorts of hobbies were just money-wasters and that Pokémon would be dead in five or ten years. The holographic Charizard that was going for $75+ on eBay wouldn't be worth a dime then. Well, it's been more than five or ten years later. That holographic Charizard still goes for about $10+ if you know who to sell to; all things considered, I'd say that's damn good. It's quite a bit more than a dime, at least. The first edition holo Charizard will still fetch you $75 at least, if not $100+. And as for Pokémon being dead? Ha! Sapporo just got a brand new Pokémon Center, and even in the US, Pokémon's presence in stores is being expanded once again. I don't think it's unlikely to think that the Nintendo World in Manhattan might actually be turned back into a Pokémon Center -- I mean, it isn't like they sell much else there anyway.

Satoshi Tajiri really did have a breakthrough idea when he came out with Pocket Monsters. Considering Japan's already rampant collector's attitude, creating a franchise based around collecting is just... genius. To some extent, maybe collecting runs in my blood -- being a huge pack rat also contributes -- but I think that everyone's got at least a little bit of collector's urge to them. Few things are as satisfying as having a completed collection, but each little piece along the way is a great milestone too. It's true even for things that might never be complete -- stamp collections, video game, manga, and DVD collections, whatever. And so, Pokémon has become very much the same. You will likely never "catch them all," but that doesn't make the games any less fun. It doesn't make you feel any less triumphant every time you hit the current monster cap.

Currently, that cap is 493. A lot of people are shocked when I tell them this because they stopped paying attention as soon as the number got bigger than 151. That's fine. Really, there's nothing wrong with having lost interest a long time ago, but I must say I'm a bit tired of people adamantly insisting that it should have stopped there. To them, I ask, why? Why should it have stopped?

From a business point of view, there is no reason to stop as long as the games keep selling, and they have kept selling. They have sold amazingly well again and again and again. Every successive generation of Pokémon has seen the two games at the top of sales charts for at least a month after release. The third game of each generation goes simiarly. My Gamestop manager friend told me today that Platinum was sold out by noon, not including the dozens of preorders that were also picked up. Pokémon's appeal has proven to transcend generation as well. My seven year-old brother (there's kind of a big age gap between us) loves Pokémon just as much as my other brother and I did ten years ago. And hell, I still love Pokémon. That's a different kind of generation-transcention. I have just as many friends now, if not more, that still love and actively play and collect Pokémon as I did a decade ago. This may just be because I have a nerdier circle of friends, but the fact remains. Pokémon has kept selling to new and old fans alike, so why should Nintendo stop?

From a fan and gamer's point of view, things are a little different, but the bottom line is mostly the same: the fans keep buying it. Obviously, this means they still want to play. I remember when all the rumors of the 2nd generation -- Gold and Silver -- were fresh on the Internet. (Oh, I love remembering the Internet of the 90's.) It was a huge. There were fake screenshots and outrageous speculations abound, but everyone was excited for it. Sites like PsyPoke and Pokémon Village were teeming with information and some of the most active fan communities on the web (is it sad that I remember these sites' names?). I don't think there was a single fan of the original game that wasn't piss-their-pants excited for G/S.

G/S did not disappoint, but there was a slightly longer lag between the 2nd and 3rd generation, as well as a platform jump. To be honest, I was excited for Ruby/Sapphire also and really wanted Sapphire for months and months after its launch. There were upgrades and updates that hadn't made it into the 2nd generation, and I was eager for more. I had just filled my Pokédex with the 251 (with some help from Gameshark for that Serebii), but I was eager for more. Unfortunately, as my parents were unwilling to invest in a new game system and as I was unable to get it on my own at the time, I lost interest in Pokémon for a few years. In that time, I suppose I got a little bitter towards the franchise -- I also thought a lot of the new additions to the lineup were retarded-looking. The games should just end because I can't play them anymore! But that was just me. Meanwhile, everyone up was eating it up all over again, game magazines and the ilk included. They all said that it was essentially the same game with fancier features, but dammit, it was still fun!

When FireRed/LeafGreen released, because I wasn't really paying attention anymore, I perceived it as a pure business greed. They're out of ideas, I thought, now they're just re-releasing old games! (Though money was probably indeed part of the equation, there is also the very logical explanation of wanting to have a way of getting first, and some second, generation Pokémon on the new Advance generation platform since R/S wasn't backwards-compatible.) When Diamond/Pearl released in 2007, I didn't have much of an idea what was going on anymore, but even then, whenever I heard about it in passing, I wanted to play it.

Long story short, I bought Pokémon Pearl that September and borrowed my friend's DS to play it on. For two weeks, I spent 3-6 hours a day playing it until I finished the active storyline and beat the Elite Four. It is still an amazingly fun game. Yes, a lot of the newer Pokémon designs are silly, but hey, there were a lot of stupid designs in the original if you think about it. (Seriously, Mr. Mime? Jynx? Racist Pokémon of the century! Golem? Muk? Exeggcute?) Some designs are just rehashed ideas, and I think that's my only quip with Pokémon at this point -- there are thousands and thousands of animal species in the world to base Pokémon off of, we do not need another Pikachu or Pidgey clone! Nevertheless, there are still a few gems: Rotom, especially Lawnmower!Rotom, is probably the coolest thing ever. XD

The interaction-centered gameplay is charming enough on its own, really, and a lot of people don't even pay attention to the "gotta collect 'em all" mantra, but those that do, like myself, really have fun with it. I felt good passing the 100 Pokémon caught mark; I felt good catching 200 of them. I felt good catching 300. Currently, I am just short of 400, but I'll probably feel good passing that too. It doesn't get old. I don't really know why. I suppose a lot of collectors lose interest after a while, no matter what they're collecting. But adding a hundred new targets every few years somehow does manage to keep Pokémon interesting. It's very simple. It's like the post office doing special releases of stamps every few months. It is the simplest tactic ever, but it works.

Pokémon isn't confined by its games either. There is an amazing among of Pokémon merchandise out there, especially in Japan, where they are still very much in love with their little critters. I really find it interesting just how much that country obsesses over all of its pop culture icons, not just Pokémon. Doraemon, Detective Conan, Hello Kitty, Gundam -- so many things retain worship-worthy statuses within their culture decade after decade. If there's only Japan to consider, it's easy to say that Pokémon will last forever, but that its still got International momentum, that's even more amazing.

Back to the merchandise though, the market for various Pokégoods is pretty incredible. According to Gin, its main maintainer, tens of thousands of dollars change hands on the Pokémon Collectors community on Livejournal every month. Collectors are from all over the world and the general mood is obsessive. Very obsessive. Most collectors like to focus on a few specific Pokémon. More ambitious ones will go after certain types. Since most Pokémon merch is sold only in Japan, and since many items are promo-only or otherwise retardedly hard to find online, its common for deputy services to be used. Collectors of Eeveelutions in particular face daunting prices for some very sought-after items. Says Gin, "[T]he person using brianjapan just paid about 220-240$ (after fees) for a one centimeter long [U]mbreon." Collecting Pokémon is SERIOUS BUSINESS, for real.

Collectors are crazy. I know because I'm one too. And that is why I also know that Pokémon is not going to die. Sure, there are collectors for almost every franchise in existence, but are they as widespread as they are for Pokémon? How many collectors of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles do you know? Of Evangelion? And what other franchise has the sheer volume of things to collect? It's hard to collect if there are only a few items available. But with almost five hundred Pokémon and at least a dozen pieces of merch for each of them (even the random, unpopular ones. I'm not kidding!), Pokémon will not die. Not as long as people are willing to catch them all over and over again and to shell out some thirty thousand yen for a tiny figurine. I don't mind anymore. As long as it's still fun, Nintendo can keep at it as long as they damn well please and it'll be all right with me. ♥ I, for one, would really love to see an Advance generation remake of Gold/Silver to go along with FireRed/LeafGreen.

In closing, I'll leave you with some of my collection, though honestly, it's very modest compared to most I know.

The bulk of my Lapras collection. I am missing a lot of plush releases of Lapras, but I'm working on it. :3

Below is every TCG card of Lapras except one (Misty's Lapras, Japanese-only card), including three versions of the card from the Fossil expansion (holo, first-edition holo, and first-edition non-holo). Also, some miscellaneous stuff likethat Lorelei card? Dunno, lol.

And here's where the collection actually sits on my shelf, along with my even more modest collections of the Totodile/Croconaw/Feraligatr evolution line and Ivysaur. Also: random other figures and crap I have.

Honestly, aside from the money issue, the only reason I don't have more toys right now is because of lack of shelf space. Poor Knuckles has to sit on the lower shelf along with that random Agumon and my DS.

And for good measure, here are my keys. Haha.

And awesomely enough? Just as I was wrapping up this post, my roommate walks in and hands me a copy of Pokémon Platinum, which I hadn't planned on getting because of time/money deficiency. I love my friends.

14 comments:

guriguriblog said...

I love that Ivysaur keyring, one of my favourite pokemons used to be Ivysaur back in the days :3

I used to be a somewhat modest collector of Pokemon merchandise, ah good times. I still have a lot of love for the original 151 part of the franchise, and genuinely think the first season did a great job of capturing children's imagination via the premise of capturing, collecting, training, befriending these 'monsters' that were traditionally treated as something to fear.

Harry said...

While I myself find it hard to really focus on Pokémon these days (namely due to World of Warcraft or just trying to keep up with the damn console games that get released TOO DAMN FAST), the series is still extremely important to me, and I heartily agree that it will never die.

Or at the very least, not for an extremely long time.

I also still remember the glory days of Red and Blue. I was just starting middle school, having to make new friends, and ALL OF US got obsessed together. Like, scary obsessed. Walking into school with Pokéballs on our belts obsessed.

Dear god, that was damn near 12 years ago. Now I feel old. AGAIN.

I wish I had gotten into hardcore collecting when I was younger. I'm particularly obsessed with Mew, as you might remember me telling you when I was still at school. I wouldn't mind having a shelf of them like you do Lapras. ou know, to share my insanity. :3

Alas, the only paraphernalia of the little goob I have is the little figure from Burger King, when they were giving those particular toys away when the first movie came out.

And now I feel like I'm ranting.

HOWEVER: I assure you that they are definitely working on remakes of Gold and Silver for the DS. There's data in Diamond and Pearl that points that way; it'd follow the pattern.

So. I dunno. I guess I've contributed my two cents, for what it's worth.

Authoritaters said...

Hehe, Lapras eh? My fave Pokemon would be Psyduck, dunno why, probably the squishiness.

I still haven't finished playing Pokemon Yellow but am a pro at Pokemon Snap now XD

What can I say? Nostalgia sells! I think once you're familiar with something it's easier to stick to it and feel all fuzzy 'cause it was a part of your life at some stage, this is why Wii games sell so well on the shopping channel (Wii points!)

This is probably why I find meself quite picky when it comes to being introduced to new anime/manga, it's like eating your favourite food I guess.

Alex said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alex said...

When I was in Japan in the fall, I visited the Pokemon Center in Osaka twice. The first trip coincidentally occurred on the same day as the release of Platinum in Japan. I think the collector's element to Pokemon is obviously how it spread in America, but a key to that is, when it originally came out, it got taken up primarily by younger kids (I was the first one to buy the Pokemon game for Game Boy in my middle school). The same is still going on in Japan -- at the Platinum opening day celebration, it was five college-age Americans trying to wade through an ocean of five-year olds with their reluctant parents. Pokemon is still big with the kids there; in America, I'm not so sure if it's the children or the nostalgic twenty-somethings now who are buttressing the market.

Also, as a funny note, at the opening for Platinum, there was a "quiz game" where my friend and I cheated off some little Japanese kid in front of us and won free limited edition cards. Gaijin smash.

Joe said...

I still love pokemon. About once every two months I have the strongest urge to fire up my old GBA and start a new file but I have to restrain myself. I'll catch six pokemon I super-like, and raise them into beastly power-houses. Is it weird that I don't want to catch them all? Anyway, the whole thing takes WAY to much time and lately I feel too guilty if I'm doing anything that doesn't better myself more than three hours. Ahh, but I still love it.

My favorite pokemon has always been Krabby. Not too much merch for him, though I don't think. I have a plastic Squirtle in my kitchen though. :)

Asperger's Anime Blogger said...

Pokemon battling was "Fight Club" for kids too young to be allowed to watch "Fight Club", when I was young. If you couldn't score a Game Boy for your birthday, you could huddle around someone else's and watch them beat gym leaders or battle other children's Pokemon. There was no gambling involved, just bragging rights. It was like an entire subculture which emerged in the 1990s my generation latched onto, and it was what you were before you learned what Goths or Indie Rockers were.

Man I miss those days, then Pokemon cards came along and ruined the peaceful societal structure of Pokemon collecting, because that DID have elements of gambling.

I now collect anime/manga related goods, Nintendo handheld games, and books/graphic novels which come in nice editions. I still have my copy of Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, signed by both of them on different book signing events from each other. Neil Gaiman smiled like a Cheshire cat when he saw Terry already signed a part.

Interestingly enough, the "specific interests" part of the condition I was born with has made me a collector all my life, with more valuable collector's items being picked up by me as opposed to the past where I collected any old junk.

TJ said...

Ah Pokemon... certainly brings back memories of my elementary school days. Wasn't really a collector myself but I remember kids who had the huge stacks of Pokemon cards AND brought their Game Boys to school to play Pokemon during recess. Those were the crazy days. As we grew older people moved on to more hardcore cards like Magic or the up and coming such as Yu-Gi-Oh. I have friends who still play Yu-Gi-Oh lol, and I think I still have some junk Pokemon cards that I got for free from other kids.

Kiriska said...

@guriguriblog: Ivysaur is still one of my favorites, haha; I just love the design of it. As far as the original goes, I suppose it'll always get props for being the first generation, but I don't think the theme and magic of the series as a whole has changed much throughout the generations. Everything that made the original what it was is still there in the newer games; it has yet to lose its charm, and that's part of why I think it'll continue to do well for a long while at least.

@Harry: Now, now, Pokemon debuted in the US in 1998, so it's been just over ten years. ;D You're not THAT old yet. Mew was my favorite for a long time and is also still pretty high on my list, but she's notoriously difficult to collect for since she was the first superspecial promo-type Pokemon. She has some really nice and varied merch though -- some of it is relatively easy to come by, but the rarer items are highly sought after and expensive as helllll.

As for the G/S remake, yeah, I know there are in-game tidbits that suggest the possibility, such as "Jhoto" being a region something can have originated from, but still, I haven't heard much in the way of concrete details. I actually still want to get a copy of FR/LG since I don't own either and my old Red died on me ages ago...

@Authoritaters: Ironically, Lapras isn't actually my favorite Pokemon, but she's fun to collect regardless, haha. But yeah, Nostalgia is a big selling point, especially amongst the 20's-30's crowd right now -- what can I say, we just had a ton of really awesome characters and franchises in the 90's. XD

@Alex: Really? From what I hear from Gin, Pokemon is very much an all-ages phenomenon in Japan, even if children are still the primary audience. She does a lot of buying and reselling Pokemerch for overseas collectors, so she's had lots of stories of going to her Pokemon Center and fighting off middle-aged folk for release day goods. Maybe that's just for the merch though -- the games themselves may very well still be very kid-oriented.

But I don't think it's any different in the US. College-age nostalgia may be a slice of the pie, but there is no shortage of little kids either. I mean, my youngest brother was not introduced to the franchise by either my other brother or myself, and his love for it kind of grew on its own also. I've gone to most of the Toys R Us promo events for obtaining various Pokemon, and the crowd is always very mixed -- maybe half college kids and half ten-year olds, but I think the skew might be in favor of the former just because it's a college town and I generally go with a group of five or six people, lol.

@Joe: I don't think it's weird that you don't have a huge collector's urge -- even though I think everyone has it to some degree, there are obvious those that are more interested in other things. The pride that comes with training a kickass Pokemon is a pretty great selling point too. :P I agree with the time/guilt thing though. It's one of the reasons I hadn't wanted to pick up Platinum. I still haven't opened the game... I'm almost afraid to. I have a big workload already this quarter, and I'm afraid if I start the game, I won't stop until I'm done...

Also, Krabby has merch -- it's probably all Japanese-only merch, but it's there all the same. There are at least a few lines of collectables that offer an item of each of the original 151. Off the top of my head, I know for sure that Krabby has at least two "kid" figures, which are kind of these hollow plastic figures, and a 151 badge collection badge. Both the figures and the badge will probably go for around $1-3 since not many people collect Krabby.

@Asperger's: Oh, I dunno. I don't think gambling ruins anything per se -- it's just a matter of opinion and personal interest in the hobby. I've always collected pretty random things -- rocks, pressed leaves, pencils, erasers, money, etc. These days, it's my Lapras collection with the Totodile and Ivysaur stuff on the side. I want a lot of anime merch, but it's more casual fangasming than serious business collecting.

@TJ: My brother was one that moved onto YGO and Magic. One thing I like about card collecting is that it's easier to make room for it, lol.

Harry said...

Well my offer still stands from back when; next time I zip through Savannah (which might be pretty soon, actually) I can always just give you a copy of Fire Red. I had to buy a new copy because I thought I left my old one in Boston on a trip years ago, but I found the old copy while I was clearing my room out going to Savannah last year. I don't need two copies of the same damn version. :3

You game?

Kiriska said...

Who'd turn down a free game? :P Of course, I'm game.

Hynavian said...

Wow! Awesome looking collection of Lapras! My favorite pokemon is charmander. As I collected many of the pokemon cards of the 1st generation, I managed to get Venusaur and Blastoise but not Charizard. And you have a Charizard card!!!! *Envious*

I'm still holding onto my cards as they bring back sweet memories of my friends and I questing for the ultimate pokemon.(:

Kiriska said...

Charmander seems to be a lot of people's favorites. XD My favorite of the starters if Bulbasaur. Between my brother and I, we did end up getting Charizard, Venusaur, and Blastoise, but he eventually just gave all his cards to me and now they sit in a fat binder in my closet at my parents' house. I keep them for the memories too, I guess, and maybe because it'd be a pain to try and sell them all! XD

Authoritaters said...

By the way, great revamp on your webbie!