The New York
By SHARON R. KING
- Lisa Chapman and her two sons camped out in their car in the parking
lot of the Oxford Valley Mall here on a recent Friday night so they
could beat the crowd at the Pokemon Trading Card Game Tour the next
morning. The line formed at 7 A.M., and by the time the event began
four hours later, it had swelled to 4,000 children and their parents.
Many wore handmade
Pokemon costumes in hopes of having their pictures taken for the
official Pokemon site on the World Wide Web. Marie Summa, 12, of
Beverly, N.J., sported a yellow hat with white felt horns and a
T-shirt decorated with her favorite Pokemon characters. "She's
been wearing that hat for three days," said her father, Thomas.
are being repeated across the country. At the Woodbridge Mall in
Woodbridge, N.J., many of the 13,000 people who showed up had to
be turned away. The craze has invaded schools too, and several have
banned Pokemon cards. "They were getting lost or misplaced
and the kids were getting upset," said Richard P. Limato, principal
of the Prospect Hill School, one of three elementary schools in
Pelham, N.Y., that outlawed them last month.
Pokemon is actually
a video game - the cards are just one of the spinoffs - and it is
shaping up as one of the biggest ever produced by the Nintendo Corporation
of Japan. Started in Nintendo's home market three years ago, Pokemon
has grown into an international industry that includes comic books,
plastic figurines, virtual pets, bean-bag toys, lunch boxes, T-shirts,
a television cartoon show and compact disks, with sales so far of
nearly $5 billion.
In, the United
States, more than 2.5 million video games have been sold at about
$28 each since Pokemon was introduced last September, more than
any other hand-held Nintendo product in such a short span. At least
40 licensing deals have been struck, and revenues already exceed
That makes it
one of the hottest fads of the 1990's among the pre-teen-age set.
The sale of Pokemon cartridges alone, for example, has totaled $70
million in just seven months. That compares with $107 million for
Sesame Street's Tickle Me Elmo doll from mid-1996 through 1998;
$83 million last year for the Teletubbies, the cuddly dolls from
Britain, and $80 million for Tamogotchi, a virtual pet, over a 20-month
period through December, according to the NPD Group, a research
firm in Port Washington, N.Y.
menagerie enchants children across the nation.
The rules of
Pokemon, which the company says is properly pronounced PO-kay-man
and which is short for "pocket monsters," are complex.
Pallet Town is inhabited by 151 monsters - or Pokemons - with names
like Raiku and Bulbasaur, and at the beginning of each game the
player recruits and trains one of them to fight all the others.
Each time a monster pops onto the screen the player determines which
skills - fire, lightning, water, growling, and so forth- his comrade-in-arms
The goal is
to become a master Pokeman trainer by capturing all 151 monsters.
Luckily, the player's initial Pokemon grows stronger with every
victory and can evolve into an entirely new creature, with the fiery-red
Charmander transmogrifying into the fire-breathing dragon Charizard,
that kids aged 5 through about 12 - mostly boys, but a lot of girls,
too - feel for Pokemon defies easy explanation. Part of it has to
do with the huge choice of monsters. "The pokes are so cute
and the characters all do different things," said Tanbari Pianwi,
a third grader at the John W. Ross School in Washington, D.C. Marcelo
Santos, a fifth grader, focused on their battle-field skills. "Pug
is stronger than any others," he said approvingly.
Sid Good, president
of a marketing research firm in Cleveland, said the Pokemons combined
two qualities that had always attracted children: magical powers
and the need to be nurtured. For a generation raised on action-packed
television shows, he added, it doesn't hurt that the game provides
a lot of raw excitement.
because it has different kinds of animals that have different powers,"
said Dustin Chapman, Ms. Chapman's 9-year-old son. He rattled off
examples - "electric beats water, water beats stone, strength
beats water and stone" - as his mother listened in obvious
has also increased the game's popularity. Nintendo spent $20 million
on publicity before it introduced Pokemon in the United States,
four times its usual budget for new products, including a 15-minute
free video it sent to one million kids. It dropped 1,000 stuffed
Pikachus, a mouse-like star in the cartoon series, from the sky
over Topeka, Kan. It dispatched 10 Volkswagen Beetles, painted to
depict Pikachu, to show the cartoons on portable TV's at the malls
and on the Main Streets of America. And after stops in New Jersey,
Massachusetts and Illinois, it has taken its trading-card road show
West, with events in Colorado and in Phoenix.
The reason for
all the spending was Pokemon's unexpected triumph in Japan, where
Nintendo has sold more than 12 million video game units, one million
CD's and one billion trading cards. All Nippon Airways even painted
the sides of some of its planes with Pokemon characters. "This
is so far beyond anybody's original projections that there has to
be more to it than a quirky niche concept," said Peter Main,
a marketing executive for Nintendo of America In Redmond, Wash.
Even so, Nintendo
anticipated a tough sell in the United States, especially after
a strobe-lighting effect in one of its television cartoons caused
a number of children in Japan to faint. (The lighting scene was
later eliminated.) But more than 100 American television stations
quickly signed on, and retailers ordered more than 500,000 game
master the Pokemon video game, demand for the cards - which are
used to play a board game but are also avidly traded - has rocketed.
A starter set of 60 sells for about $8, with other packs costing
from $3 to $10. Wizards of the Coast, the Renton, Wash., company
that sells them under license, has begun rationing shipments.
a supervisor at a hobby shop in Colorado Springs, said the cards
often disappeared from shelves within three hours of arriving, "We've
timed it and we've placed bets" on when the last pack will
go, Mr. Carmical said. Donald Johnston, who works at a toy store
in Arlington, Va., said the allure of the game had spread to adults.
"We get everyone from Pentagon guys who come in asking for
the game to mothers with kids," Mr. Johnston said.
to be no end to the Pokemon invasion. Last week, the Topps Company
announced it had signed a deal to market a line of cards in North
America as Wizards of the Coast has been doing since January, and
to sell Pokemon lollipops in the entire Western Hemisphere. And
last month, the Oscar Mayer Foods Corporation said it would feature
the cartoon characters on 50 million packages of its Lunchables
also proved a surprise hit for Hasbro, which began selling miniature
Pokemon figures, pokeballs and electronic figures late last year.
It has introduced about 50 characters, and plans to phase in the
others. The company has doubled its revenue projections for Pokemon
this year to $50 million.
A lot of people
think the Pokemon craze has gotten a bit out of hand. A small number
of schools in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas and
Washington have barred either the cards, the hand-held game or both.
Mr. Limato, the Pelham principal, said the cards were worse than
just a distraction; the older children often made advantageous trades
with younger students, who would then become upset. As for the game,
he added, "We try to discourage solitary activities."
So do some parents,
"I know about the game, but it is not allowed at home,"
said Yvonne Rayes, the mother of a 5-year-old. "I don't think
action figures are good for kids. It is good to encourage kids to
play with each other, not with a Game Boy."
voice less lofty objections. A woman named Linda from Yardley, Pa.,
who declined to give her last name, said she had just spent $300
on various Pokemon paraphernalia at a local Electronics Boutique
for her two sons, aged 7 and 12, and "I don't want to ever
shop for this stuff again."
She may have
little choice. Nintendo will introduce two new games this year,
Pokemon Pinball, for use in Game Boy players, and Pokemon Snap,
for the Nintendo 64 player. New monsters will be introduced in a
Yellow Game Boy cartridge to go along with the red and blue already
available, and a Pokemon movie should hit United States shores this
When told of
all that was yet to come. Linda laughed nervously. "I'll deal
with it when it happens," she said.
Copyright © 2000 by The New York Times Company.