I used to work in a GAME store here in the UK for a period of around 20 months or so up until June 2013. While the salary side of it eventually made me move on elsewhere, obviously being into games I was rather in my element working there. It was always great to have conversations with people who were as into games as me, especially since my own personal circle of friends aren't gamers. Not to mention the staff discounts that I very regularly made healthy use of.
One of the more interesting but unexpected things that I learnt from working there however were the buying habits of people in relation to games. Obviously, this is all anecdotal from just one store, so I'm not implying this applies to people as a whole, but nonetheless what I observed was fairly consistant throughtout my tenure there; the people that buy The Sims almost all tend to be young teenage girls (and they're the only ones who buy the expansions), middle aged women love Professor Layton and Sonic seems to mostly appeal to young boys. And, for some reason that I never figured out, black adult men seem to buy a lot of racing games. Hell, when I got my dad a 360 I got it with Forza 4 and Dirt 3 because I knew he'd like them both; he then subsequently went on to buy a bunch of other racing games such as Racedriver Grid, Split/Second and Dirt Showdown (among other games to be fair).
Like I say, this was all just me noticing certain demographics tending towards certain games and genres over a period of time in just one small, specific place, and I wouldn't be so bold as to say it's indicative of anything in particular across a larger population.
Pokemon however seemed to do something that no other game or franchise did. Young boys bought it. Young girls bought it. Teenagers, both girls and boys bought it. Same with adults. The only people who didn't seem to be buying it were older generations, people aged maybe 30 or 40+. Pokemon seemed to cross all demographic boarders consistantly with every release. Age, sex, race, culture; it didn't seem to matter, everybody would buy Pokemon regardless. The only other game I can think of that's of a similar popularity across demographics is Minecraft, although from what I saw when that released on XBOX 360, it was much more popular among boys than girls, and it was largely boys aged 15 and under buying it. However, whereas Minecraft is loved as the free sandbox that it is, I think the reason behind Pokemon's appeal is more multifaceted than Minecraft's.
Nostalgia of course plays a huge role, as evidenced by Nintendo upscaling and re-releasing old Pokemon games to new generations of gamers on newer systems. While I personally started on Red & Blue, I know people whos first generation of Pokemon was Ruby & Sapphire, so for them Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire were trips back to their childhood (which is kind of horrifying for me). I dare say the same thing will happen with Diamond & Pearl, Black & White and, if what I saw when X & Y released is anything to go by, it'll happen with that generation too.
I think however, the main thing that really attracts people of all colours and creeds, is that Pokemon itself is arguably one of the most malleable and fluid game experiences out there, and has become more so over time without compromising on what made it so loved in the first place. While the core of it has remained pretty much the same since its inception, the game has become incredibly flexible and open to players tastes.
Other than the route you take through gyms to the Pokemon league, very little in Pokemon is forced onto the player. True, it does put you into the guise of a Pokemon trainer, but who says you need to stick to that? I myself played Pokemon X as an explorer; I managed to avoid seeing all the new Pokemon prior to X's release (with the exception on the starters), so going into the world I had no idea of what Pokemon I would encounter, and when I did find new ones, I had no clue what they'd evolve into. It made the game all the more exciting, not knowing what was in store for me, and I can't see myself playing another mainline Pokemon game any other way from now on.
Then there are all the other self-appointed roles you can take on. You can play it as a collector, looking to own the full 721 Pokemon in existence. You can play it as a Pokemon breeder, making super IV'd and EV'd pokemon for trading and training while letting Ditto do all the dirty work for you. And then of course you can play it with the competitive scene in mind; of what team combos are effective or ineffective, acquiring shinies, so on and so forth. There are so many different levels that Pokemon can be enjoyed on, right from the casual side over to the hardcore competitive side of things.
In fact, the competitive community demeonstrates just how deceptively multilayered Pokemon has become. Any kid can play and understand the fundemental mechanics of Pokemon, complete the game and get great enjoyment from it. If you want to go further, you can start looking into the basics of breeding inheritable moves, of what natures and skill are preferable and how to make a nicely balanced team. You want to take it even further? Then there's the entire competitive battling scene that'll provide you with a level of tactical preparition, planning and battle that, on the surface, one would never assume something as seemingly simple and child-oriented as Pokemon would have. To have that much potential depth and nuance to your core gameplay mechanic that it can be enjoyed on both ends of the same spectrum is not a simple exercise, but Pokemon seems to have done so without ever compromising what made it so captivating in the first place back with Red & Blue.
In leaving itself so open-ended and player defined, it inherently offers wide appeal. People like being offered the opportunity to choose how they want to play their game, even if they turn down the offer and proceed as the game directs them, but having the choice available means that people who otherwise might have dismissed the game as not for them can get something from the experience. That's not even taking into account the customisability of things in game; your name, sex & appearance as well as your Pokemon's names. That's a point too: the simple appeal of the Pokemon themselves. With so many Pokemon in existence, there's going to be at least some that appeal to everyone. You want to make yourself a super cute, fuzz-riddled team of adorableness? How about a team of armoured spiky rock hard dinosaur-dragons? Or maybe a morose, eerie team of dark & ghost pokemon? If not that, maybe a team of lightning powered robots? Hell, why not go the whole hog and have a full team of nothing but the most powerful legendaries? Pokemon themselves are of course the major selling point of any Pokemon game, and whether you like or dislike certain gens aesthetic styles, it can't be denied that Game Freak have really put an impressive amount of diversity into their creations.
I can't help but think about how Pokemon does this widespread appeal so well and then look towards the AAA market, and how in their drive to have a bigger and bigger piece of the wider audience pie, they end up watering down and losing sight of what people initially loved their games for, alienating their established fanbase while the audience they were so voraciously chasing does little more than mutter slightly, only to turn away to face the brighter lights that they were always heading towards. I'm thinking of Dead Space 3, Resident Evil 6, the whole Overstrike/Fuse situation, that kind of thing.
There's a difference between opening your game up to be more welcoming to people who might've been intimidated before whilst maintaining your games creative heart (such as XCOM: Enemy Unknown) and warping a loved universe into something undesired in an attempt to pander to an uninterested mass. IF EA had been realistic with Dead Space, both in terms of projected sales and budgeting, we may well be playing the fourth installment as we speak. As it stands however, they tried to hurtle it to the top by contorting it into a shape it was never meant to fit, and now the series is seemingly silent. I can't help but worry that while AAA publishers stick to the business model that they're holding onto now, more series will be considered 'dissapointments', 'failures', or not 'meeting expectations', and will be either twisted beyond recognition or consigned to redundancy in the name of grasping that fickle, tantalizing wider audience.
I'm never going to be as into Pokemon as I was at the beginning, but I think after working in GAME and seeing just how many people it works for and on how many different levels it does that has made me respect it a lot more as a creative achievement than I ever would've done during my youth. It should stand as a prime example in the medium of how to build upon your foundation and open it to new minds and players over time without breaking what you already crafted or losing what you envisioned in the first place in the restless pursuit for an even bigger fish. There can't be many games that boys, girls, men & women can all claim to play, but from what I saw during my time behind the counter certainly convinced me that Pokemon was one of those few.