Nick Hargrave - March, 30th 2023
Pokémon – The history of this iconic trading card game
Collectible card games have been popular in the U.S., and around the world for about 100 years.
However, trading card strategy games had only been prevalent since the early 90’s. This may have been
a surprise to industry leaders due to the innovation in video games as some of the most iconic game
systems were being released throughout this timeframe.
One video game series that released in 1998 for Nintendo’s handheld Game Boy console was Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue. These games and their expansions Pokémon Green, Yellow, Gold, Silver and Crystal sold 75,510,000 copies. This was more than 4 times that of the 2 nd most sold game which was Super Mario Land*. In 1999, the subsequent trading card game was launched and a legend in the TCG world emerged.
Pokémon The Card Game
Pokémon Base Set 1, which includes the 1st edition, 2nd issue and the unlimited set (sometimes referred
to as 3rd issue) arrived in North America in 1999, which sent a tidal wave of follow up merchandising, TV
shows and spinoffs of new “monster” driven strategy card games. It was a wild success and the
developers at Game Freak, Nintendo and its original creator Satoshi Tajiri had their work cut out for
In the following months and years Pokémon would steadily grow and the follow up expansion sets and added “Pocket Monsters,” which is where the term Pokémon derives from, would be created and released. This started with the second and third expansion called Jungle and Fossil, which lead to Base Set 2 and a whole host of new Pokémon and Trainer cards.
The first release of Pokémon TCG
No Signs of Slowing
After Pokémons initial release of both the Game Boy games and base edition, follow up games and
expansion sets released regularly. While some releases had less popularity than others, these releases
kept the game fresh and new to the huge community that had been formed. In fact, data collected on
various search engines show a year over year growth of interest increasing. Around 5 million people a
month used relevant keywords to the franchise on search engines in 2004. That number floats around
10 million as of 2023.
Notable increases in popularity for both video games and the card game occurred in 2007, 2011 and 2013. The 2007 peak captured a new younger audience as well as the first generation of Pokémon players with the release of Diamond & Pearl. It’s release came with the new Nintendo DS which saw another big push in popularity for the collectible trading cards. The 2011 increase came from the popular set of Pokémon ‘Black and White’ that followed a slight increase in overall popularity than the 2007 release.
2013 saw its biggest boost in popularity until Pokémon GO’s release with X & Y which was the first video game to have 3D graphics in the franchise. This saw a huge “first-time” newcomer audience but caused a bit of division between pre-existing Pokémon players. Some controversy that the game was turning into a ‘dumbed down’ version of the game that lacked content and difficulty. While no solid data on this exists, popular remakes or spin offs of various games were emerging with a lower difficulty level. This was seen to many as a ploy for a broader and younger audience and by making the game easier to access and play.
Image depicts the Pokémon red & blue video games next to the original Nintendo Gameboy
Pokémon Peak & Resurgence
Most things, especially in the toy industry, could be considered a fad, something that comes in like a
wrecking ball but eventually a decline in interest occurs. This can vary in timeframe and some things can
just leave with the generation it was introduced too, with few exceptions. Pokémon is that exception
and while it’s original popularity and growth never saw a decline, Pokémon didn’t actually peak in terms
of popularity until 2016 with Pokémon GO, the mobile video game.
This saw an explosion of interest in physical Pokémon cards with a secondary boost in popularity occurring around 2022, this time surrounding the collector side of things as many early sets and expansions entered the age of antiquity.
Pokémon GO 2018 credit to https://pokemongolive.com/
A New Era: Pokémon GO
Pokémon GO exploded on the scene in 2016, I think to even the creators surprise. This game was
downloaded over 1 billion times and still sees revenue figures of around $700 million from in app
purchases according to 2022 reports. The more amazing part is that Pokémon, whose popularity lie with
the younger generation, a game that captured the imagination of children was now being played by
adults. In fact, over 50% of Pokémon GO players are over 35!
And while Pokémon GO has come and gone, recent baseline Pokémon game releases such as ‘Sword and Shield (2019),’ and ‘Scarlet and Violet (2022),’ continue to top the charts and keep a fresh bit of content for old players to enjoy and new players to join in on the fun. With the amazing journey and success of Pokémon, it’s safe to say future installments will be met with the praise and popularity as the ladder.
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*Technically Tetris sold more copies than Super Mario Land at 35,000,000 copies, however Tetris was sold as a bundle for both Game Boy and Game Boy Color.
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