Pokemon is the McDonald’s of video games

We’ve all taken our first steps in Pokemon Scarlet & Violet’s Paldea, adding it to what’s likely to be a long list of fictional Pokemon regions to explore over the years. There are quite a few at this point, even more when you throw the spinoffs at it, and there are almost too many Pokemon games to keep up with.

Scarlet & Violet will continue to sell millions of copies, well over ten million. Every game other than Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon in the main Pokemon series has surpassed ten million copies sold. Given the success of Sword & Shield and the number of switches sold, it seems likely that Scarlet & Violet will be closer to 20 million copies than 10. However, the games have also been plagued by the same comments and complaints as other recent Pokemon titles. Fans wonder, like games that make so much money, no voice acting, the sub-par graphics compared to other games (even titles on the Switch) and the newer edition, the lack of a full Pokedex since its capacity exceeds 1,000.


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This is all coupled with the age-old “they’re fine, but they’re not as good as (insert favorite Pok√©mon game here)” from thousands of people who will play the new games for at least 50 hours then do the same, when the next Pokemon games arrive. But why are we doing this? Why do people return to games that don’t change much from entry to entry? Games that many have the same complaints about every time a new pair arrives. That’s because Pokemon is a juggernaut that’s found a rhythm, a system, a formula that works, and it’s just not worth the risk of deviating from it too much.

Despite the complaints that come with them, Pokemon games are great. They won’t win Game of the Year anytime soon, nor will they be lauded for breaking new ground. Pokemon doesn’t care about these accolades. He did all this 25 years ago. Now it’s interested in getting its next few games out and leaving, which is actually a pretty tricky balancing act. The core of the games stays true to the roots of the series so people keep coming back, but change it just enough so they aren’t accused of releasing the same games with a new backdrop every few years.

Perhaps the best comparison here is to McDonald’s. If you ask someone what their favorite food is, they will point to a special dish with meaning to them or a sophisticated meal that needs to be prepared properly. Not many people will say Big Mac or Quarter Pounder. However, McDonald’s is the largest and most successful fast food chain in the world, and it’s nowhere near that. That’s because, like Pokemon, McDonald’s discovered its groove a long time ago and has been sticking with it ever since. Every once in a while it tweaks a classic or gives customers something new to shake things up, like throwing bacon on a Big Mac or bringing back the McRib, but it knows how to please most people most of the time without having to themselves try harder to make it stick to it.

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That’s exactly what Pokemon is doing and has been doing at this point for years. The Bacon on the Big Mac lets Trainers explore Paldea as they see fit, rather than following a somewhat linear path. The return of the McRib was the long-awaited revival of Pokemon Snap. Decisions and additions that caused a lot of hype among Pokemon fans, not because the foundation was laid, but because in both cases it was enough to shake things up without deviating from the path. Not too much that people who love Pokemon’s formula, despite their ailments, saw what seemed to be writing on the wall for fear of big changes.

Until people stop going to McDonald’s to do what McDonald’s does, the fast-food giant doesn’t need to revamp its menu or reinvent the industry it revolutionized. The same goes for Pokemon. If by some miracle Scarlet & Violet doesn’t sell somewhere north of 15 million copies, then maybe Pokemon will consider shaking things up a bit more. But that won’t happen. The formula works, and as long as it’s tweaked every now and then and fans get the odd “new burger” like Legends: Arceus or Pokemon Unite, there will never be a need to change it. Now all we have to do is decide who will become Burger King. It’s not still Digimon, is it?

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