TOKYO — The Japan launch of "Pokemon Go" on Friday included the game's first partnership with an outside company: fast-food giant McDonald's.
About 400 McDonald's Japan outlets are "gyms," where players can battle on their smartphones. The other 2,500 are "Pokestops," where they can get items to play the game. The hope is, presumably, that they may also buy a Big Mac in the process.
Serkan Toto, a Tokyo-based games industry consultant, explained earlier this week why this partnership between the Pokemon Co., McDonald's Japan and "Pokemon Go"-developer Niantic Inc. could be big for the gaming industry. His comments were edited for space and clarity.
Pokemon Go is already raking it in
From the game industry (perspective), the critical point here is that this game is making money from in-app purchases. It's the number one grossing application in every single market where this game has been launched up to this point. That's the amazing, amazing point about this application.
The McDonald's deal
The reason people are talking about this McDonald's deal is it could constitute, and I think it will constitute, a second revenue stream for Niantic that other games cannot possibly have for systemic reasons, if you will. Because of the GPS element, Niantic can do these O2O (online to offline) kind of business deals. They are adding a new way to make money through mobile games, by virtue of the GPS element in the game, and I think this deal is just the first of many to come.
What is O2O?
There are certain applications — they are not games — that are able to drive traffic to restaurants, or to drive traffic to tourist spots that are not as popular as in Tokyo, for example. The expectation for "Pokemon Go" is that "Pokemon Go" in that sense can become an advertising platform.
More on Pokemon's Japan launch from AP
"Pokemon Go" is expected to be a huge hit in Japan, the country of the character's birth. Fans have been eagerly awaiting its release since it first came out more than two weeks ago in Australia, New Zealand and the United States, and then spread to become a blockbuster hit in more than 20 countries.
One of the Japanese creators of the game apologized for the delay in a video with the American head of Niantic posted on the internet.
"To everyone in Japan: I am sorry to make you wait for so long," said Jyunichi Masuda, the head of development at Game Freak Inc., the developer of the original Pokemon game. "'Pokemon Go' can now be played in Japan."
In the game, players search for digital creatures that pop up on smartphone screens as they move through real-world locations. The game's success has sent the stock price of Nintendo Co. soaring. The Japanese game maker, in partnership with Game Freak, released the original Pokemon game in the mid-1990s, and owns the trademarks to all the game's characters.
Keito Sato, 17, walking with school friends in Tokyo's Roppongi area, said he's been playing since he learned about the game's release via Twitter. He was hoping to test his skills in a battle at a McDonald's, but realized he had not reached a sufficient level to do so.
In Akihabara, 19-year old student Yuchi Mori said he was undeterred by the multiple reports of "Pokemon Go"-related traffic accidents and other mishaps elsewhere. He downloaded the game as soon as a school exam ended Friday morning.
"Well I suppose using the smartphone while walking is dangerous, and small kids could be taken away by suspicious people, but I think it's alright as long as each individual stays careful," said Mori, a Pokemon fan since he was 6-years old.
As anticipation built toward the Japan release earlier this week, the government issued nine safety-related rules for "Pokemon Go" players to follow. Niantic CEO John Hanke asked users to play with care.
"When you go out to play, keep your head up, look around, enjoy the world around you and be safe," he said in the video message.