Twenty years have passed since the birth of the portable virtual character game Tamagotchi from Bandai. In July 2016, Bandai started offering a new version known as Tamagotchi MIX or Tamagotchi M!X in English. Keeping the original design in mind, the design team came up with a new way to enjoy the game by incorporating elements of “genetics.”
The original game was first sold in 1996 in Japan and in 1997 worldwide. Players fed and took care of the digital Tamagotchi pet. The explosive popularity of playing the game was such that it became a social phenomenon. A series of characters was produced beginning in November 1996 and continued until March 1999. Sales totaled 40 million worldwide.
Subsequently, in March 2004, there was a revival with the release of the Tamagotchi Plus, which had an infrared communications capability. New models were released at intervals of a year or a year and half. As of the end of March 2016, cumulative sales totaled 81 million.
With respect to the Tamagotchi MIX, Kaori Kiji, the assistant manager of the Girls Toy Character 2 Development Team, noted, “With the 20th anniversary in mind, we focused on going back to the origins [of the game].”
“What gives the Tamagotchi its special appeal is in the caring and the nurturing. Enjoying that aspect was a key point in our development plan. That led to incorporating ‘genes’ into the game,” she added.
Up to now, when characters have been married, the children that are born have no resemblance to their parents. In the new product, “genes” are carried over. Characters progress through stages: infantile, rebellious, puberty, friend making, and maturation. During the infantile stage they may resemble their father, and during the friend-making stage they may resemble their mother. They inherit the peculiarities of their parents.
Characters change depending on how they are raised. There are tens of millions of patterns.
Tamagotchi are primarily aimed at elementary school girls. Kiji remarked, “We were really uncertain how to convey the meaning of genes.” They decided to make provision for taking pictures of characters and tracing their family tree back as many as 20 generations to allow verifying the roots of a particular character.
“For example, one way to enjoy the game is when the eyes of the character resemble the eyes of its grandmother. We worked to make it so that even elementary school children could appreciate resemblance by using the family tree mechanism that we introduced,” she said.
If friends use the communication function and connect their Tamagotchi, they can exchange items and linked Tamagotchi can interact and have social relations. “We added a fortune-telling function that can be used to predict what kind of children will be born when Tamagotchi get married,” Kiji said.
Kiji was responsible for product planning from 2009 to 2012. Looking back on what was the biggest hurdle in development, she said, “Verifying the tens of millions of characters.” The characters are computer-generated, but in the end they must be verified by people and that consumed an enormous amount of time.
Since this is the 20th anniversary of the product, promotion is on a larger scale than usual. In order to get elementary school children to understand genes, DVDs explaining how to play the games were given away at special events.
Yoko Kato, assistant manager in the business strategy team in the same section of Bandai, said, “When I see the reaction of elementary school children [who have bought the game], I see that we have been more successful than anticipated in conveying the meaning of resemblance between a character and its parents.”
In November 2016, Bandai began offering the “Tamagotchi MIX 20th Anniversary Version.” This was based on a new product introduced in July but which brought back nostalgic characters from the past.
The high school and college girls who bought the first generation Tamagotchi are now mothers and can enjoy the current Tamagotchi with their sons and daughters.
Tamagotchi are sold in more than 50 countries and regions and have a high level of global recognition. Kiji said: “I want to maintain the way of playing, changing with the times, breaking the broken places, while creating characters that will be loved for a long time.”
Tamagotchi MIX A portable game shaped like an egg. In the center there is a liquid crystal display and three buttons for operating the game. The object is to take care of a selected character. The distinctive feature of the Tamagotchi MIX is that characters born from married characters inherit parental genes. There are six types in three colors: pink, blue, and purple. The estimated retail price is in the 4000-5000 yen ($36-$45 or £27-£34) range.
Gen Koganezaki is a staff writer of the Sankei Shimbun.
(Click here to read the original report in Japanese.)