I’ll admit right off the bat that I have less than a casual grasp on the Pokemon franchise. I’m aware of its existence and Pikachu was my favorite character in the N64 classic Super Smash Bros but that’s about it. With that said, from what I understand, Pokemon White and Pokemon Black are the most revolutionary games since the franchise’s early inception. While the core mechanics remain largely the same, the slate has been wiped clean with an all-new roster of creatures to capture and train and early reviews indicate that many of the franchise’s social connectivity promises are finally being delivered.
It’s been long enough since the last significant Pokemon release that developer Game Freak could have gone the ‘same but more’ route of past iterations of franchise and still made a pile of cash, but they decided on a much bigger risk-reward scenario. Losing the iconic Pikachu cover could have alienated fans, but how many times can you capture and train the same creatures? A new roster of 150-odd characters breathes new life into the franchise, but in a great twist of fan-service the entire existing roster (all 500 more) unlocks near the end of the main game.
The combination of new faces and the retention of the past is apparently paying off big time. HULIQ’s tracking chart did not start until after the release of the sales juggernaut Call of Duty: Black Ops, so I can’t comment relative to that title, but White and Black have demonstrated the strongest pre-orders of any title to date. Pre-orders for both games consistently rank higher than actual retail sales of many current AAA titles. Japan’s release set a record for a DS game, and U.S. demand is very strong. This is going to be a big game – the question is, how big?
The nature of sequels and iterations in the franchise makes it difficult to pick a comparison title, but the closest comparison would be Pokemon Diamond and Pearl (Japan 2006 and U.S. 2007). Best estimates place U.S. sales of those two titles combined at 4 million after six months and somewhere north of 6 million across their lifetime. Given a bigger DS install base, the strong reception in Japan, and very high pre-order demand in the U.S. White and Black have much higher sales potential.
HULIQ projects combined sales of 5.5 million after 6 months and 7 million after 12 months. The 3DS notwithstanding, this will be the handheld gaming item to purchase for much of 2011.
It has a combination of a strong core following (which has no doubt led to the high pre-orders) but an all-ages casual appeal that should see its retail sales stay high for a long period after launch. It is possible that younger or more casual gamers have moved on from the franchise, which would put sales below the projections, but if reviews are any indicator this will enjoy strong word-of-mouth fueling casual purchases. Hanging in the background is the specter of piracy on the DS but, like Call of Duty: Black Ops, sales should vastly outpace any spread of pirated editions.