Trivia 005: Invest in Pikachu

Hello everybody! Congratulations on surviving January. I’m hoping that February brings some nicer weather with it.

Last week, Pokémon Legends: Arceus was released by Game Freak for the Nintendo Switch. I was only aware of Pokémon in passing, growing up, having come across a few of the trading cards here and there. But many of my friends played at least one, if not more, Pokémon games growing up. I had my first major experience with Pokémon games when I was in college, with Pokémon X and Y. Given that Pokémon has been around since 1996, it should come as no surprise that it is a very large franchise. But I was surprised to find out that Pokémon is, in fact, the highest-grossing media franchise in the world.

Wikipedia puts Pokémon’s total revenue at 109 billion USD. This is $20 billion more than the runner up, Hello Kitty (another surprisingly high contender). In comparison, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has an estimated total revenue of $38 billion. Now, you could argue that the only reason Pokémon has a higher total revenue is because it is older, but the entire Star Wars franchise (started in 1977) only has a total revenue of $69.4 billion.

I think that the primary reason Pokémon has made so much money is because of its popularity combined with diversity of content. Pokémon first got its start as Pocket Monsters Red & Green released for the Nintendo Game Boy on February 27, 1966. This was soon followed up by the introduction of the Pokémon Trading Card Game (TCG) on October 20, 1996,  and the Pokémon anime on April 1, 1977. These are the three pillars on which this media empire stands – video games, card games, and anime. That’s not to say they also have other sources of income; Pokémon-themed passenger jets account for $3 million of their revenue. But these are the primary breadwinners.

Licensed merchandise is the largest revenue category, at $82.805 billion. This includes toys, stuffed animals, souvenirs, and all other miscellaneous merchandise, as well as the Pokémon  TCG. As of March 2021, the TCG has sold over 34.1 billion cards. It’s difficult to find statistics for this, but it seems to be a comparable amount to the number of Magic: The Gathering cards sold over its lifetime. Pokémon still sponsors world tournaments for the TCG (though the last two have been on hold due to COVID).

The second largest contributor to Pokémon’s revenue is their video games, raking in $24.452 billion. There have been 37 Pokémon titles in the main series, plus a bevy of other side games, like Pokémon Snap. Now, that number does include the fact that many of their games are split into two parts, like Diamond and Pearl. These two games are functionally identical, with some minor differences in story and the actual Pokémon you can catch in game. But perhaps this duality is beneficial to the series, as it encourages people to get together and trade Pokémon with other people so that they can have a full set. After all, you’ve “gotta catch ’em all” as the slogan goes. Strategy books for these games alone have brought in $142 million.

Last, but certainly not least, is Pokémon’s film arm, bringing in $1.85 billion at the box office and $148 million in home entertainment. The Pokémon anime has aired over a thousand episodes split across 23 seasons, with a 24th ongoing. It has also produced 23 animated films and one live action film (Detective Pikachu), which currently has a sequel in the works.

All this and more has made The Pokémon Company and Nintendo simply ludicrous amounts of money. So I guess if you manage to go back in time, forget Apple stock. Invest in Pikachu.

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