Excitement for Pokemon on the Switch is growing. Every passing day brings with it new rumors and speculation. Will it be at E3? Will it be out in 2018? Surely Nintendo needs something massive this year, right? Well if you're hoping for a big reveal this year, chances are you're setting yourself up for disappointment.
This is my own opinion, granted, but it's one grounded in past history. Here's why a 2018 release for Pokemon Switch would be unprecedented.
The Pokemon Company Didn't Think the Switch Would be a Success
Game Freak and The Pokemon Company tend to be very conservative as far as developers go. They are slow to migrate to new platforms, have a fairly rigid process, and rarely rock the boat in terms of the formula. While Pokemon is closely associated with Nintendo, The Pokemon Company guards its independence jealously.
With that in mind, Pokemon Company CEO Tsunekazu Ishihara's comments on the Switch last year were revealing. "I told Nintendo that Switch wouldn't be a success before it went on sale, because I thought that in the age of the smartphone, no one would carry out a game console. It's obvious I was wrong."
Ishihara's attitude was similar to other mainstream publishers, many of whom are only now seriously revving up production for the Switch. Pokemon on the Switch was probably inevitable, but if the Switch had been slow out of the gate, Game Freak might have waited longer than usual for the system to build up its install base. Or god forbid, even transitioned to Nintendo's mobile label.
Pokemon Switch was announced around E3 last year, but Game Freak had little else to say beyond that. We don't know how far along it is in development, but given Ishihara's comments, and the fact that Game Freak usually takes its time with new generations, it still feels like it's a year away.
Pokemon's New Generations are Usually Announced at the Beginning of the Year
If you've been following Pokemon long enough, you know that The Pokemon Company tends to follow a fairly rigid schedule when revealing new games. New generations are usually revealed around January or February, with new mechanics, starters, and modes being shown in the months after. The Pokemon Company finishes by sending producer Junichi Masuda and the new game's director on a single media tour right before launch.
The latest a new generation has been revealed is Pokemon Black and White, which was announced on April 9, 2010. Pokemon X and Y and Sun and Moon were first shown in January and February respectively. New generations are a big deal for Pokemon, and The Pokemon Company is quite particular about how they're promoted.
By that measure, it's a bit late in the day for what will surely be the biggest and most important Pokemon reveal to date. And until now, The Pokemon Company has never formally revealed a new generation at E3. Last year's confirmation is the closest the series has come to a true E3 reveal.
Things can change, of course, and there's still time for The Pokemon Company to take the wraps off the eighth generation. But it's more likely that the series skips a year. With Pokemon Sun and Moon being only two years old, Game Freak is apt to take its time and let the seventh generation breathe a bit.
Pokemon Always Takes its Time Getting to New Platforms
Pokemon has never been released in the year after a new platform's release. Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire, Diamond and Pearl, and X and Y all came in Year 3 of their respective platform's life cycle. By and large, Game Freak seems content to wait for a platform's install base to build up, and for any kinks to be ironed out. It's perhaps no coincidence that Pokemon Diamond and Pearl and X and Y launched not long after Nintendo refreshed the DS and 3DS with new hardware.
With The Pokemon Company being skeptical of the Switch's chances to begin with, it's hard to imagine the eighth generation breaking predecent and launching in Year 2. Game Freak has always been content to take its time with new games, and with the Switch continuing to break individual sales records, Nintendo doesn't really need to push the issue.
Pokemon Switch Will be the Most Complex Entry to Date
Pokemon's transition to the Switch will be a massive milestone for the series. For the first time ever, it will be playable on a home console. It's a release that will likely warrant a large graphical upgrade in addition to the usual array of new monsters, mechanics, and modes.
What's more, Game Freak will have to figure out what Pokemon on a home console will actually look like. How much emphasis will it put on the Switch's portability? What will the online modes look like? It's an even bigger transition for the series than when it entered 3D for the first time on the 3DS.
In addition, this is the first time Pokemon will be on Nintendo's primary platform. As I wrote way back in 2016, Pokemon has a chance to be the Switch's killer app. The pressure to get it right will be enormous.
So based on all of that: the fact that the seventh generation came out relatively recently; the enormity of the transition; the fact that the usual media cycle would be getting a late start, and The Pokemon Company's own professed reticence about the Switch, I just can't imagine it coming out in 2018. It would break every previous precedent and compress what would be an important promotional cycle for the series.
But who knows? This is a big generation for Pokemon, and things can always change. It may be that Game Freak is rushing development to take advantage of the moment that the Switch is having. I reserve the right to be surprised. I just don't think it's gonna happen this year.