PlayThings: Pokémon Gatcha Figurine

Why Gotta Catch ‘Em All is a sound business strategy

Bringing you the latest instalment in our Playthings news series, examining the fascinating stories behind the played videogame objects from our Playthings exhibition and beyond.

Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue for the Nintendo Game Boy burst onto the scene in the late 1990s. These cute ‘Pocket Monsters’ dominated childhoods across the world [including mine]. Japan first experienced the 151 Pokémon from 27 February 1996, but ‘Pokemania’ swept the world between the game’s American and Australasian release in September/October 1998 and it’s European release of 5 October 1999. This phenomena was also aided by the meteoric popularity of the Pokémon animated television show.

As the cult of Pikachu grew, so did an army of Pokemon merchandise. This particular item, a figurine of Latias collected from a Japanese Gacha Machine, is an interesting indicator of just how popular Pokemon has become.

Gacha Machines dispense small toys in capsules. They are commonplace in Japan, and the figures that can be found in these machines range from the bizarre to the very rare. The overriding hook of the Gacha machine is randomness: you simply never know which toy you will receive from the Gacha Gods. Across Japan, toys found in Gacha machines are officially licensed, making them another avenue to promote official – and rare – merchandise.

This figure is of the legendary psychic/dragon Pokemon Latias. They made their first appearance during the third generation of Pokemon games for the Game Boy Advance across 2002 and 2003: Ruby, Sapphire (and later, Emerald, in 2004 and 2005). On a universal Pokedex they are registered at #380. According to Pokemon lore, Latias can communicate with humans and understand human speech. [I’ll take Pokemon as a special subject for Mastermind].

This Gacha figurine is a physical illustration of how Pokemon realized the global economic potential of videogames as a product. The merchandising machine of film franchises such as Star Wars, with figurines of iconic characters like Darth Vader, provides a perfect blueprint for Pokemon. In Kyoto, Osaka, and Tokyo, Pokemon Centres demonstrate how Pokemon merchandising has grown. From Pokemon soft plush toys, to a Pikachu car, the game has evolved greatly from its beginnings as a cute collectathon videogame on the Game Boy. It is now a bonafide videogame merchandising empire.

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