Q&A: Head Pokétrainer Tsunekazu Ishihara

Pokémon Company CEO chats with GameSpot about Diamond and Pearl, why making a game multiplatform dilutes quality, and why Nintendo will win the console war.

As president and CEO of The Pokémon Company, Tsunekazu Ishihara has seen "Gotta catch 'em all" turn from a marketing slogan to a capitalist edict for many a young gamer.

Ishihara produced the first two Pokémon titles, Pocket Monster Aka and Pocket Monster Midori, which were released in 1996 in Japan for the Game Boy. Since then he has seen the series' success spread around the world, eventually yielding a trading card game, a TV animation series, and movies.

The latest two titles, Pokémon Diamond and Pokémon Pearl, have been out in the US since April 22, and will be released in Europe July 27. Today, Pokémon is the second most successful video game franchise in the world, second only to the Nintendo mascot himself, Mario.

GameSpot caught up with Tsunekazu Ishihara on a whirlwind visit to the UK to promote the two latest titles at the Nintendo Wii Flat in London.

GameSpot UK: Pokémon has been an incredibly long-running franchise. Why do you think it has managed that longevity when many other series have been forgotten?

Tsunekazu Ishihara: I think perhaps the continued success is due to the fact that every time we create a new game there's always a new surprise, something new to discover, and a new element of fun. That's something that we always try to have in mind when we evolve the game. For example, every time there is a new iteration of the game, a new region and therefore new Pokémon are discovered.

If you look at what's happening at the moment, there are many intellectual properties that have made these crossovers between TV, movies, and games, and I think have applied similar methods [with the Pokémon brand]. So, we have to continue to look at new ways and ideas so that we don't get left behind or snowed under by these copies. So we have to keep topping ourselves.

GSUK: How has your audience evolved?

TI: As the game itself evolves, and new areas are discovered and the game expands, there's always a new generation of Pokémon users who are starting to play the game. Also, at the same time, there are users who used to play and stopped, but now they're rediscovering it because they are parents themselves and have started to play together with their children.

GSUK: Do you think you have a big adult audience?

TI: First and foremost, it's a game I play, and I'm an adult, and I can get quite passionate and involved in it. Initially Pokémon was designed with children from toward the end of primary school to the middle of secondary school in mind, but there are certainly elements that adults can and do enjoy, too.

GSUK: Where are the games most popular? The US? Japan?

TI: In terms of population, the US is probably the biggest, but if you look at the installed base with hardware and software, it's about the same.

GSUK: How did you find working with the DS technology for the first time with Pokémon Diamond and Pokémon Pearl?

TI: Looking at the game, we need to bring out the best of the game on the particular platform--in this instance we tried to utilise the touch screen, and also the Wi-Fi element, as well as the two cartridge slots.

For example, a new experience would be to use the DS almost like [a voice over IP] phone and you can chat to your friends, or have a battle with them, or exchange Pokémon with them.

GSUK: What do you think of how the industry is changing and the new platforms?

TI: If you look at the DS or the Wii--these are very well received consoles at the moment and rather than try to compete with hardware specifications alone I think it is more important to look at the lifestyle and come up with an idea that is more unique with this hardware.

If you look at other companies, they make games on multiple platforms, but perhaps it is better to concentrate on what one hardware platform can offer, and to use that to bring out the best in the software with that in mind.

GSUK: Why's that? Do you think making a title multiplatform somehow dilutes it?

TI: Yes. When you look at multiplatform games, because they are multiplatform you have to consider what is universal to all of the platforms when you're making it and therefore that limits the actual creativity.

An obvious example, on the DS you have the touch screen but on other hardware you can't use that. In Pokémon, you can inherit Pokémon from your Game Boy Advance, a feature which is also only available on the DS.

GSUK: Any plans for a Pokémon massively multiplayer online game?

TI: At the moment it's not in that exact style, but I already feel that the fact that Pokémon can now be played worldwide, exchanging Pokémon and so on, that it is essentially a massively multiplayer online game already.

GSUK: What's next for the Pokémon series?

TI: Right now [in the UK] Diamond and Pearl will be made available soon, then the Wii Pokémon Battle Revolution is coming, which can connect with the DS versions. I have ideas for the next Pokémon games after that, but I can't disclose them at the moment.

GSUK: What do you think makes a good game?

TI: In terms of Pokemon, if you look at any given user, they generally want to play a new Pokémon game but they want to play something that's very familiar to them at the same time. That's perhaps the most difficult part during the development, to try to come up with a new game, with new elements, and also maintain the integrity of the original. Generally, it's not any one element that makes a game interesting and fun to play, but a combination of many things.

GSUK: How do you think the next-gen war will play out?

TI: The hardware which has Pokémon on it will be the winner.

GSUK: Thanks for your time.

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208 comments
venom_brawl
venom_brawl

the next two pokemon games will be named pokemon opal and jade

longsleeve
longsleeve

I want Pokémon Opal with the third legendary pokeymans thing.

phatkav
phatkav

"The hardware which has Pokémon on it will be the winner." For some reason I think he was joking about this part.

manaphy490
manaphy490

please remake pokemon gold and silver

manaphy490
manaphy490

pleaee remake pokemon gold and silver

Zeriza
Zeriza

Well that guy's right( Tsunekazu Ishihara) 'cos Pokémon brand has dominated the whole gaming market .Also most of the people buying the nintendo consoles are buying them to play pokémon games and you can't ignore it 'cos ignoring such thing would be a great example of blindness-foolness

Tremblay343
Tremblay343

That was a very sony-esque statement. Nintendo getting a little full of themselves. Now, before the flaming begins i know he doesn't actually work for nintendo, but come on, nintendo basically owns pokemon.

Agelu
Agelu

"The hardware which has Pokémon on it will be the winner." LOL... That is a VERY VERY bold statement!! I don't think this CEO even believes this, rofl!

tubbablubba
tubbablubba

the hardware which has pokemon on it will be the winner That took cahones to say

DarthMGH
DarthMGH

I think He was joking when he said that, although I agree with him. Pokémon is the second most successful video game franchise only to the Mario games.

dgguidryjr
dgguidryjr

the man has a point. making exclusives for consoles makes it a better experience because you have no limitations of how it translates from console to console. there's a reason that most exclusive franchises are so good on consoles. I know this guy is insanely successful and hs business tactics are the reason he's so successful, but he also seems a tad overconfident in his franchise. the wii and DS are successful because they're fun to play, not because pokemon is exclusive to those systems.

warped369
warped369

seems to me that this guy's initial addicting concept has worked well and long enough for him to say he's created a good series, and he got it right first try. just because he doesn't change major concepts from game to game (grand theft auto 2 to grand theft auto 3) doesn't mean nothing changes. the fact that the series is now on the ds, a whole new innovative way to play games, is change enough. also, i think the comment about pokemon determining the best system was clearly a joke. but, this just wouldn't be a comment wall if 80% of the people on here complained about it.

lamprey263
lamprey263

Maybe Nintendo's union with Pokemon is the reason there's seizure warnings on almost everything Nintendo.

VicMackey
VicMackey

I'm all for making a Pokemon MMO. I'll never have to see another Nintendo fanboy in public Just kidding.

ssj4_2004
ssj4_2004

duck_watson oh man that guy is deluded every pokemon game is the same if uv played one uv played them all they all have the same story they all add 150 new pokemon which are all basically the same as the previous bunch just slightly more rediculaous and they all have a lame professor that everyone hates and if that weirdo thinks that the console with pokemon on it will win the console war then he is a bigger tosser than i thought seriously someone with better technology than nintendo should make this guy a game and that is anyone! --------- How many points were You trying to make in that one sentence of Yours? I honestly can't tell. It all reads like gibberish to me.

DeanBFred
DeanBFred

To people who doubt the success of pokemon - i would say it's self evident. Clearly, whether you like it or not, it's a good game - otherwise it wouldn't have dominated the market so well. Obviously the whole 'hardware with pokemon ftw' bit is ridiculous, but the games themselves have already won - they captured their target market; people keep coming back.

Dylanius
Dylanius

To be honest, diamond and pearl are the greatest poke adventures Ive had since the golden days of red and blue. I heavily suggest to any fan of those two classics to give the new games a try- you'll love em. Plus, you can catch -every- Pokemon in existence in this series. How crazy is that? It's nearly 500 different little critters to use and abuse.

Mangafan2
Mangafan2

Pokemon still has enormous succes. People can laugh at the games all they want but with Pokemon on Nintendo's side, nothing is stopping them. Pokemon was also one of the big handheld boosts Nintendo needed to completely take over the world with their handhelds.

dannyrun56
dannyrun56

pokemon is played out come on i've played most of them and its the same thing catch and raise pokemon! wow!

duck_watson
duck_watson

oh man that guy is deluded every pokemon game is the same if uv played one uv played them all they all have the same story they all add 150 new pokemon which are all basically the same as the previous bunch just slightly more rediculaous and they all have a lame professor that everyone hates and if that weirdo thinks that the console with pokemon on it will win the console war then he is a bigger tosser than i thought seriously someone with better technology than nintendo should make this guy a game and that is anyone!

clutzyaj
clutzyaj

Don't let the theory of "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" rule your development of a video game, since you get stuff like the Mario Party series. As for creativity, it's all an idea that the individual believes in. I just try to come up with an original idea that won't sink and cause massive dislike among the end users.

Dbzhbk0073
Dbzhbk0073

"Why change it when they got it prefect the first try?" You don't have to, but don't preach about creativity and innovation while your company does neither." heh your funny like microsoft and sony had a ounce of creativity or innovation in them. no need to get madby sideing on one companys side that dont give a crap about you besides how much money you give them.

beyond_17
beyond_17

Yes, ofcourse. Just how the GameCube won the last "console" war :)

beyond_17
beyond_17

Yes, ofcourse. Just how the GameCube won the last "console" war :)

BlueYoshi579
BlueYoshi579

"TI: The hardware which has Pokémon on it will be the winner." In Ds vs. PSP, he's right. Of course, the DS was winning without Pokemon anyway.

TheBlastmaster
TheBlastmaster

""LOL @ everyone acting like Sony and MS have nothing but garbage games on their systems because one guy, who's been churning out the same game over and over again since like 1998 yet won't add features people have been asking for since 1998, says multi-platform hurts creativity. Pokemon is a good game but its like the japanese version of Madden where they release a new version each year and add only minimal changes. Nobody would listen to the Madden team talking about being on the cusp of creativity and originality..." Why change it when they got it prefect the first try?" You don't have to, but don't preach about creativity and innovation while your company does neither.

WarriorWithin52
WarriorWithin52

"TI: The hardware which has Pokémon on it will be the winner." Hes in just as much denial as sony and their thoughts of how they think they will win the next-gen war. LOL

Symphonycometh
Symphonycometh

I agree on Multi-plat screws the stronger system over...

Tylendal
Tylendal

A Gold/Silver remake (sort of like Fire Red and Leaf Green) would be IMO the best thing they could do.

Sandro909
Sandro909

"Nintendo will win the console war" - That's ROFL material.

MasterAsh42
MasterAsh42

He's right. . . Simply by adding online support, this generation of Pokemon games already emulate an MMORPG, with a far more realistic meld of oneself and one's avatar. The games always lent themselves to putting oneself into the character of a trainer, from the immense effort needed in raising a prime Pokemon team, to the intense study and practice to become a great battler, all the way to the crucial social aspect of sharing the secrets of each. And these in turn create an uncanny sense of pride, accomplishment, and most importantly immersion that, even though I have never played a "true" MMORPG, I honestly believe no single game or franchise has ever accomplished at such a touching, base level. Though for those wanting a more accurate MMORPG experience, there's still plenty of dupers, hacks, and scammers around to fill it out. . .

wiidominance
wiidominance

At the beginning I got pissed off with the Wii in terms of not having the big hits the 360 and PS3 and PC are getting, but then I realized that the Wii has its own hits and its own thing, as things stand right now, it is the most unique system between all main 4 (PC,360,PS3 and Wii) both in a good and bad way. Therefore, in order to not miss out ... you will need a Wii +(PC or PS3 or 360) these three seem to share most big hits if not all.

evry1snice
evry1snice

Must... have... Pokemon... MMO Sure as heck beats World of Warcraft.

Syluvan
Syluvan

"TI: The hardware which has Pokémon on it will be the winner." Admirable confidence. He's right, too.

JasonQ87
JasonQ87

"TI: The hardware which has Pokémon on it will be the winner. " Owned.

IncrediBurch
IncrediBurch

I have an idea for the next pokemon game. How can I talk with this guy and pitch him my idea. I would just like to be heard.

flamingice45
flamingice45

"LOL @ everyone acting like Sony and MS have nothing but garbage games on their systems because one guy, who's been churning out the same game over and over again since like 1998 yet won't add features people have been asking for since 1998, says multi-platform hurts creativity. Pokemon is a good game but its like the japanese version of Madden where they release a new version each year and add only minimal changes. Nobody would listen to the Madden team talking about being on the cusp of creativity and originality..." Why change it when they got it prefect the first try?

PIKA740
PIKA740

they're is 470+ pokemon wow I love you POKEMON!

MrSickVisionz
MrSickVisionz

LOL @ everyone acting like Sony and MS have nothing but garbage games on their systems because one guy, who's been churning out the same game over and over again since like 1998 yet won't add features people have been asking for since 1998, says multi-platform hurts creativity. Pokemon is a good game but its like the japanese version of Madden where they release a new version each year and add only minimal changes. Nobody would listen to the Madden team talking about being on the cusp of creativity and originality...

Lord_Regnier
Lord_Regnier

"If you look at other companies, they make games on multiple platforms, but perhaps it is better to concentrate on what one hardware platform can offer, and to use that to bring out the best in the software with that in mind" Couldnt agree with ya more.

rokkuman09
rokkuman09

I have fond memories of the Pokemon games, it was also so much fun playing against your friends with your Pokemon you had spent many hours leveling up.

crippo_gamer
crippo_gamer

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

dragonbattousai
dragonbattousai

I hope one of his planned Pokemon games is a Gold and Silver Remake, I want to be able to play through the Johto Region again T_T

pikachu5
pikachu5

I think that he may have something goin there, I mean the console with pokemon may not be able to win but nintendo has alot more experience than playstation and microsoft would ever have because they werent around with atari or sega no offense but sega has more experience in games all the PS3 and 360 seem like is whats the better game or what has better graphics you should look at how good the game is and see if you wanna go back and play it over and over again you cannot tell me theres not one nintendo game that you havent gone and beat more than once not even possible but yeah nintendo may win the console war but thats just my opinion.

dragon247uk
dragon247uk

I will be tormented forever at school for admitting this but I used to love the Pokemon franchise. So much to do and so much to explore. However I pretty much lost interest when the rest of the gaming world progressed whilst Pokemon was still stuck in a time warp on the GB. But looking back, that was about 5-6 years ago and alot has changed since then.