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Interview: Pokémon franchise to last for hundreds of years according to COO

Tom Ryan-Smith

| Last updated 

Interview: Pokémon franchise to last for hundreds of years according to COO

One year after the triumphant post-Covid return of the Pokémon World Championships in London, the biggest event in the competitive Pokémon calendar finally came home to Japan for the first time in the franchise’s history.

Taking over the city of Yokohama, you couldn’t take more than five steps without finding an original piece of Pokémon art adorning a wall, giant trading card or Bidoof bum poking out of a hedge.

With that defining factor of being hosted in Japan for the first time, press and influencers from across the planet (including us here at LADbible) were invited to experience all that ‘Worlds’ has to offer – including an interview with the Pokémon Presents style icon and chief operations officer (COO) of The Pokémon Company Takato Utsunomiya.

What struck us in the interview was how open to questions Utsunomiya was. Pokémon has been a famously tight-lipped company, so to hear candidly from the company’s second in command – behind the long reigning CEO Tsunekazu Ishihara – was an extremely rare occurrence.


It’s not just our interview with Utsunomiya that seemed surprisingly open, we were also given access to the Pokémon TCG creators, Creatures Inc. office in Tokyo, which you can see in the video below:


When asked about the company’s structure and purpose, Utsunomiya explained that given the fact Nintendo, Game Freak and Creatures are the main shareholders of The Pokémon Company (TPC) and are also involved in making Pokémon and its products, that allows TPC to focus on the franchise’s long-term vision… a vision that reaches far further than any of us would expect.

He explained: “It's a very unique structure and we need to operate as a business and we need to make money of course, but it allows us to really take the long term view on things and think about everything that we do, how can we keep Pokémon alive for hundreds of years, passing it on to the next generation and making sure that it's survives well past our lifetimes.”

The Pokémon Company COO Utsunomiya as seen in a Pokémon Presents. Credit: The Pokémon Company
The Pokémon Company COO Utsunomiya as seen in a Pokémon Presents. Credit: The Pokémon Company

Utsunomiya is very aware of the challenges TPC face in seeing this vision through and keeping the franchise around for 'over the span of hundreds and hundreds of years'.

Prior to the boom of Pokémon GO, the franchise was nowhere near as popular as it is today.

In 2016, Pokémon profits skyrocketed thanks to the release of the mobile game juggernaut – earning around $140 million net profit in the year ending Feb 2017, compared to around $5.6 million the previous year.


The distribution of earnings between TPC, Nintendo, Game Freak and Creatures is an interesting one, and well worth diving into this Twitter thread here to learn more.

With the meteoric rise of interest in the trading card game during the 20th anniversary and then during the global pandemic, Pokémon reached levels of popularity it hadn’t seen since the original craze in the 1990s. Keeping Pokémon popular is something TPC takes seriously.

“So, as I kind of said a moment ago, our goal is to keep passing on Pokémon to the next generation, over the span of hundreds of hundreds of years, for example," Utsunomiya continued.

"And in order to do that, to do that, of course, we need to make sure that we are still keeping the younger generations, the kids interested.


“One thing I can say, kids are very, very honest, they, they don't play things that they're not interested. So if you, if your brand feels like it's something that's old or boring, they will immediately dismiss it.

"So that's a big challenge. Making Pokémon continue to feel like something new and exciting for the younger audience, the kids, it's very important for us.

"It's easy to focus on adults, they have a lot of disposable income, you can see their reactions in real time on social media, for example, but on the other hand, kids, they have, maybe just a little bit of money they can spend so they really focus on the things that they are only interested in and they're very honest in that regard.

"So a big challenge is to just make sure that we aren't losing track of keeping them interested”

There are now more than 1000 Pokémon. Credit: The Pokémon Company
There are now more than 1000 Pokémon. Credit: The Pokémon Company

That pressure to keep the franchise moving forward for centuries to come brings the unenviable task of designing more and more Pokémon.

Fans and critics have been debating the quality of new generation designs as far back as Gold and Silver, but with now over 1,000 official Pokémon out there to catch and the knowledge that more monsters will have to be imagined into existence, LADbible had to ask if Utsunomiya felt any pressure in keeping up creative and adored designs every three years.

Utsunomiya said: “I do think we can continue to create lots and lots of new Pokémon and we must create more appealing Pokémon if we want to continue passing on Pokémon to the next generations and keep it going for the long term.

"But I really think that coming up with new Pokémon ideas is an area that Game Freak really excels in. And that's something they put so much of their effort into so it's really just a necessary ability, I think ability in the Pokémon group and we want to continue supporting Game Freak to come up with new designs in the future.

“And one thing we're seeing now is that people who are adults who grew up playing Pokémon as kids are now entering Game Freak and actually being involved on these teams that are creating new Pokémon or coming up with new ideas for Pokémon so they're able to contribute new ideas even though they grew up playing Pokémon.”

It's a daunting thought to consider after nearly 30 years and over 1,000 Pokémon we’re potentially only at the very beginning of the franchise. Will Pikachu still be a popular mascot in one hundred years’ time? I don’t know, but it’s a bloody good question.

Fans criticised Pokémon Scarlet & Violet's graphics. Credit: The Pokémon Company
Fans criticised Pokémon Scarlet & Violet's graphics. Credit: The Pokémon Company

The franchise will struggle to make it to its centenary if it continues the trend of poor graphical performance games and negative fan reactions.

Scarlet and Violet were arguably two of the best games in the franchise, but performance issues and sub-par graphics severely dampened the experience for many.

Some gamers have even sworn off the franchise until Game Freak sort out the technical issues in main line games – or work out a slower release schedule that allows the team more time to polish and perfect future releases. Well, it seems at least those concerns are being heard.

“One thing I can say is that regardless of if we publicly respond we're always very closely paying attention to the feedback and conversations happening in the communities,” Utsunomiya explained.

“I think as a company that when we release products, we try to provide entertaining experiences.

"There are certain aspects where you know, we can't always be 10o percent aligned with what some parts of the community are asking for and what we want to provide.”

The finalists and champions at the World Championships in 2023
The finalists and champions at the World Championships in 2023

It shouldn’t be surprising to hear Utsunomiya’s opinion on aligning with the community, as he is completely right.

Pokémon is one of the biggest media franchises on the planet – it’s totally impossible to please absolutely everyone, and there will always be loud voices in the fanbase disappointed in any decision.

A good example is their reliance on ‘gen one’ Kanto Pokémon (especially Charizard) in so many materials, games and trading card sets. The first generation are some of the most popular creatures in the franchise, but they’re not everybody’s first choice.

Whether Pokémon outlives us all and lasts until the heat death of the planet is still up in the air, but right now it’s in a fantastic position to continue its path to world domination.

We’ll just have to wait and see how the franchise evolves, adapts, and stays relevant in the years, decades, centuries and millenniums to come.

The interview took place in a round table with members of the press from across Europe.

Featured Image Credit: The Pokémon International

Topics: Gaming

Tom Ryan-Smith
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