On November 21st, The Pokémon Company released Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire in Japan. The pair of games sold 1,327,671 copies as standalone packages and another 90,497 copies in the form of a “Double Pack” containing both versions.
According to Japanese sales tracker Media Create, early purchasers of Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire were primarily in their 20s. This suggests that the games were bought primarily by returning fans of the original Pokémon Ruby/Sapphire, which was the plan all along. Interestingly, Media Create adds that the proportion of early purchasers under the age of 15 was significantly lower than in the case of last year’s Pokémon X and Y.
It should be interesting to see if the proportion of younger players increases towards the end of the year, when the demand for gifts increases during the holiday season. For the time being, though, what we’re seeing is more evidence of an ongoing trend that began with Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver—one that suggests Pokémon’s audience is growing older.
The increase in age from Diamond/Pearl (above) to HeartGold/SoulSilver (below).
When Pokémon Diamond and Pearl were released in 2006, the pair of games sold primarily to preschoolers, 1st – 3rd-graders, and 4th – 6th-graders. Beyond those age groups, the audience for those games was far smaller. However, when Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver launched in 2009, that pair of games saw a large increase in the number of highschoolers and those from the 19-24 age range that had returned to playing Pokémon. This makes sense, since HeartGold and SoulSilver were remakes of Pokémon Gold/Silver. Naturally, nostalgia played a factor and attracted older players that were fond of the original games back to the series.
The age groups of Pokémon Black/White’s audience.
The increase in age didn’t stop with HeartGold and SoulSilver, though. When Pokémon Black and White were released in 2010, those two games were bought mainly by users between the ages of 19 and 24. In fact, in the case of Black and White, the developers had made a conscious decision to create a pair of games targeted to appeal to older players, in order to prevent them from “graduating” from Pokémon as they grew up.
Black and White weren’t the only time that The Pokémon Company and Nintendo consciously tried to appeal to older players either. Two years later, they collaborated with Koei Tecmo to create Pokémon Conquest (titled Pokémon + Nobunaga’s Ambition in Japan), and while the evidence was entirely anecdotal, retailers in Japan suggested that that game was also selling to adults.
Finally, when Pokémon X and Y were released last year, they also sold primarily to college students at launch, although for a different reason. At the time those games launched, school kids were busy with exams, and the older Pokémon audience filled the void. Coming back to Media Create’s report, the sales tracker says that the number of adults that picked up Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire at launch is even more than in the case of X and Y.
Now, let’s look at another piece of data we have on hand—the fact that sales of Pokémon have been in a decline for the last few years. A quick look at this report will show that the more recent Pokémon games haven’t been doing as well as their predecessors. X and Y haven’t done as well as Black and White, while Black and White haven’t done as well as Diamond and Pearl. This leaves us with two observations:
1. More and more adults have been playing Pokémon for the last five years.
2. Pokémon sales have seen an overall decline in the last five years.
The fact that more and more adults are playing Pokémon with each successive game tells us that the series’ existing audience is getting older. Eventually, these fans will end up outgrowing the series. Thus, in order for Pokémon to keep growing, the only solution is to keep bringing in newer, younger fans to replace the ones that leave. However, the fact that sales are in decline suggests that this isn’t happening, and that’s a cause for concern. Pokémon—and just about any franchise that sells millions, really—has always relied on younger players to maintain growth over the years. When younger players stop coming, you’re in trouble.
So, what we’re left with is this question: What will The Pokémon Company do to try and attract children to the franchise once again? Appealing to children is incredibly important for any large multimedia franchise, and Pokémon is no different. Also, don’t forget, we live in a world where Pokémon is no longer one of a select few kid-friendly franchises of prominence—depending on which part of the world we’re talking about, games like Minecraft and Yo-kai Watch are fighting for the exact same audience as Pokémon. In light of these factors, one wonders how The Pokémon Company, Game Freak and Nintendo will keep the kids coming back and maintain growth.
Food for thought:
1. Pokkén Tournament is also being designed to appeal to older players.
2. I doubt children are the target audience for the Pikachu detective game.