Pokémon is one of the biggest and most well-known media franchises ever made, and one of the biggest cash cows for a lot of different organizations, Nintendo included. However, the ownership of Pokémon is a somewhat complicated affair, with several fingers in the proverbial pie, which leads people to ask: does Nintendo own Pokémon?
Pokémon is owned by The Pokémon Company, a separate organization formed by the three companies behind Pokémon (Nintendo, Game Freak, and Creautres) to manage the production, licensing, publishing, and marketing of the Pokémon franchise.
There is a lot more to the ownership, however, and it has created a lot of confusion, especially with early mobile Pokémon apps. To clear up that confusion, we aim to elaborate on who owns Pokémon, and how that ownership has changed over the years.
Does Nintendo own Pokémon?
Despite Nintendo’s involvement in the creation of Pokémon Red and Blue (Pokémon Red and Green in Japan), they do not presently own the franchise in Japan or North America. Despite that, they have a significant stake in its existence and its continued success. This is especially true when you consider that the company that does own it — The Pokémon Company — was a joint creation by it and the companies Game Freak, and Creatures, all of whom were involved in the creation of the Pokémon franchise dating back to 1990.
While Nintendo shares ownership and copyright credit with these companies, in certain other countries, Nintendo is the sole trademark holder in certain other countries. Nintendo of Australia is also responsible for some of the Pokémon product licensing in the country, since The Pokémon Company does not have an Australian branch. While there were initially branches called Pokémon US and Pokémon UK, they eventually merged in order to form The Pokémon Company International, still keeping the offices in their respective countries.
The Pokémon Company is involved in many facets of the Pokémon brand, including (but not limited to):
- Video games
- Pokémon Trading Card Game
Why was The Pokémon Company created?
The Pokémon Company was actually originally created by the three companies as The Pokémon Center Company, which was in charge of managing the Pokémon Center stores in Japan. This was enough at the time, but as Pokémon became a more popular franchise, Creatures employee (and later The Pokémon Company CEO) Tsunekazu Ishihara found it too difficult to keep up with licensing, but still wished to expand the licensing. The three companies, in turn, changed it into The Pokémon Company, which fun fact, was former HAL Laboratory and Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata’s first projects for Nintendo.
Starting in 2011, a separate company was formed, called Pokémon Center Co., Ltd, which was established to set up to manage the Pokémon Center brands and stores.
Can Pokémon games come to other platforms?
The Pokémon franchise has been released for a variety of Nintendo systems, but for the most part, the franchise has stuck to Nintendo platforms for the most part. Of the only exceptions back in the day, the only stuff that was released were much smaller projects made by licensees. For example, you could purchase Pokémon Play It! for PC, and educational games were released for the Sega Pico educational device in the early 2000s.
More recently, Pokémon has seen releases on non-competing platforms, such as the arcade, most notably with the release of Pokkén Tournament (which eventually released for Wii U and then Nintendo Switch). Despite Nintendo’s reluctance to release mobile phone games early on, The Pokémon Company was much more willing, with their first mobile phone release being Pokémate, developed by Square Enix in 2006. To contrast, Nintendo’s first effort, in collaboration with DeNA, was Miitomo in 2016, and their first actual mobile video game with Super Mario Run in the same year.
While a number of Pokémon games have come to PC, mobile phones, and arcades, there have not been any Pokémon games released for competing platforms for Nintendo, like Xbox and PlayStation. Further, there is nothing that suggests that The Pokémon Company will release any on those platforms in the future.
Can non-Nintendo/Game Freak developers work on Pokémon video games?
To put it simply, yes — so long as a developer receives approval from The Pokémon Company to make a video game, they are free to do so, though they still have to operate within the bounds allowed by the company. This should come as no surprise, given that Square Enix was mentioned above having worked on a game, but many more companies have done work on Pokémon games in the past. One of the most notable examples of this is with Pokémon Go, developed by Niantic, and arguably one of the biggest Pokémon video games out there.
While Pokémon games on mobile devices are generally developed by third-party developers, you can find some on home consoles and handhelds that are developed by third-party developers. Some of these developers approached Nintendo and/or The Pokémon Company with an idea in mind, while others the developer may have been approached with an idea. Two notable examples of developers who have worked on the Pokémon franchise include Bandai Namco (Pokkén Tournament, New Pokémon Snap) and Spike Chunsoft (Pokémon Mystery Dungeon franchise).
Does The Pokémon Company only allow Game Freak to make mainline titles?
First, let’s be clear: a ‘mainline title’ generally refers to an entry in the main franchise (Pokémon Red and Blue, for instance), or a remake thereof. This stands as opposed to games like Pokémon Mystery Dungeon and Pokémon Ranger. Until very recently, Game Freak was the only company that was responsible for development of these games.
This trend changed in 2021, with the release of Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl, remakes of the Nintendo DS games, Pokémon Diamond and Pearl. These two games were designed by ILCA (I Love Computer Art), while Game Freak was instead working on Pokémon Legends: Arceus and the forthcoming Pokémon Scarlet and Violet games.
The Pokémon Company and Nintendo tend to be protective of the brand, and while there have been some critical and commercial failures in the franchise, they usually do well with only giving certain developers access to the license.