Can Yo-Kai Watch repeat Pokémon’s success in the West?

A kids game for handhelds that involves capturing fantastical creatures, then battling them against rival monsters. Stop us if you’ve heard this one before.

No, it’s not Pokmon we speak of, but newcomer Yo-Kai Watch. Like Nintendo’s critter-catcher, the ghost-hunting series has taken Japan by storm, crossing from 3DS into comic books, a TV show and multiple films.

The first two titles in the Yo-Kai Watch series, created by Professor Layton developer Level-5, have sold over four million units in Japan, and have just begun their transition to the West. A spin-off, Yo-Kai Watch Busters, has sold another one million units. The first game – one of the best-selling 3DS titles to date with over 1.29 million sales – landed in the US last week, with a European debut planned for 2016.

Viz Media Europe, license-holder for the IP in the UK, says that its Eastern triumph can be repeated in this country.

This will be the next big boys’ brand, essentially the next Pokmon,” predicts EMEA associate brand manager Waell Oueslati. We have very high expectations for the market and for the UK.

We hope to rival the success of Pokmon in the games market. We are certainly bigger than Pokmon in Japan.”

"A new generation of fans is ready for the next major success story in this genre."

Rob Corney, Bulldog Licensing

While the global games industry has often been defined by Japanese creations – Mario, Metal Gear and Final Fantasy have all struck it big in the US and UK – not every game from the country is so widely accepted by Western players.

Yo-Kai Watch draws heavily from Japanese ghost story traditions – which differ massively to our understanding of spectres here in the UK. So will the 3DS games’ appeal be lost in translation?

The success of any brand is driven by its conformity to the key brand pillars that drive the success of all entertainment properties,” reassures Rob Corney (lead picture), group MD of licensing agency Bulldog Licensing.

Characterisation, storylines, reach, calls to action, scalability… all are vital aspects in driving longevity and cross-category success – the origin of the property is not relevant to this.

Yo-Kai Watch offers three key elements, each of which would create a strong kids’ property in their own right: a TV series, Nintendo game and fantastic toy range from Hasbro. It’s an incredibly exciting licensing opportunity. The performance of the brand in Japan, where it is the number one property in the market, has been exceptional.”

Corney adds that, while the obvious comparison of the brand is to other Japanese kids IPs, Yo-Kai Watch will be comparable to animated hits of Western origin, too.

The last major anime-esque property to really hit the big time in Europe was probably Ben 10 – though that was not a Japanese brand,” he says.

It’s been a few years since this was at its peak and a new generation of fans is ready for the next major success story in the genre.”

Yo-Kai Watch arrives in the UK next year as an already-established franchise, its strategy refined by its Japan and US launches.

Corney says games retail should be looking to take advantage of the IP’s proven popularity.

With a series of three titles ready to launch here in the UK, this brand offers great opportunities for games retailers to become destinations for the brand at retail,” he enthuses.

Yo-Kai Watch will have very strong support across multiple product categories, constantly driving traffic back to games retailers and enhancing the footfall and sales opportunity many times over.”

Whether Yo-Kai Watch will come alive in the West or fade into obscurity is yet to be seen. Corney says every effort is being taken to cement the IP as a worldwide phenomenon.

The TV, game and toy line will launch next year,” he says.

We have had a fantastic reaction from licensees, who have been watching the success of the brand in Japan for some time.

We hope to have partners signed for key categories imminently and will immediately start on launch planning and product development.

The future for Yo-Kai Watch looks very bright.”

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