Pokemon Sword and Shield
Credit: Game Freak
Remember #Dexit? It was a whole thing. Without going too much into it: Pokémon fans were angry that Pokémon Sword in Shield would be the first in the long-running franchise not to support every Pokémon from every game, and threatened to boycott. We stopped hearing much about that shortly after the game released, as tends to happen, but now we at least have some numbers to indicate why: everyone was playing an absolute ton of Pokémon Sword and Shield. Nintendo just released earnings figures, and the two games come in with a whopping 16.06 million units sold, a massive figure for a storied franchise that is clearly enjoying one of its most popular moments in its history. The boycott, as everyone could have guessed, did not materialize.
Here’s the thing about boycott threats like this one: they mean the exact opposite of what they say. When you see such intense controversy swirling around a game, more often the not, what it means is that there is a huge amount of attention being paid to an upcoming title. The more intense the controversy, the more attention being paid.
NPD analyst Mat Piscatella has tweeted about this in the past, saying that a threat of a boycott is a reason to boost forecasts, not cut them:
This isn’t the case absolutely, 100% of the time: Star Wars Battlefront 2’s controversies actually had a big negative impact on earnings, though that was a more complicated situation with Disney’s involvement and the game’s last minute microtransaction changes. I suppose some could point to Battlefield 5, but there were a lot of other non-boycott reasons why that title underperformed.
But with something like Pokémon Sword and Shield, it’s easy to see how this actually shakes out. Nobody in a position to care about something like a limited Pokédex is actually going to boycott that game, at least not in numbers greater than rounding errors. These are the hardest-core fans of a franchise, and they’re just not going to skip the new titles. Most likely, these are the sorts of players that are not going to skip either new title. But the boycott still indicates the intensity of anticipation, just through the negative lens through which social media is so good at putting over entertainment.
So next time you see a threat of a boycott, pay attention, but not for the reasons you think. If people are threatening to boycott the Breath of the Wild sequel because Zelda is a playable character(or something), tick those forecasts up a bit.