Roughly 30% of all Pokémon playing cards—the 1997 card trading game based on the Japanese animation of the same name—were printed in the last two years. The reason? Speculative traders.
Last year, the Pokémon Company—a joint venture between game publisher Nintendo and two other companies that manages all Pokémon products—said it was “aware that some fans are experiencing difficulties purchasing certain Pokémon [trading card game] products due to very high demand,” and promised to reprint “impacted products at maximum capacity.”
In June, the Pokémon Company revealed what “maximum capacity” meant.
According to date from the company’s website, the group printed a whopping 9 billion playing cards between March 2021 and March 2022. That’s more than double the 3.7 billion cards the company printed a year prior and well above the company’s annual average of 1 billion new cards. To date, the Pokémon Company has printed roughly 43.2 billon cards since its launch.
“The overprinting is working,” Charlie Hurlocker, a senior consultant for CGC, a company that evaluates the quality of cards before auctions, told Polygon. Hurlocker says that even the most common cards would sell for six cents during the height of the Pokémon craze last year, but after Pokémon’s giant print run, those cards now go for a penny.
Throughout 2021, retail investors, flush with stimulus cash, flocked to assets like cryptocurrencies or meme stocks in the hope of getting a large return quickly. Others decided go invest in Pokémon cards.
Pokémon cards are distributed in booster packs, sold at a uniform price of $4, that contain a mix of common, uncommon, and rare cards. But rare cards can resold for much more than the cost of a pack. In April 2021, lucky owners could flip a “Shiny Charizard VMAX” card—released just two months earlier—for over 350 times the price of the pack, or $1,400. (The potential return has since dropped to a mere 75 times the cost of a booster pack).
Even older, rarer cards can sell for astronomical sums of money. Early last year, a holographic Charizard card from 1999 sold on eBay for $311,800. Influencer Logan Paul bought an even rarer “Pikachu Illustrator” card—a limited-run item issued in 1998 as an award for an illustration contest—for $5.2 million in April this year.
The potential earnings led crazed collectors to strip store shelves clean of Pokémon booster packs in the hope of scoring a rare card. Interest in Pokémon trading cards as an asset surged so high last year that card grading companies—auditors that value the worth of playing card collectibles—were reporting wait times of at least ten months to value a Pokémon card.
But the rush of speculators left players who actually wanted to play the game struggling to buy new cards. Big-box retailers like Target reportedly gave the green light to store managers to call law enforcement on collectors camping overnight to snap up new shipments of cards.
Now that the Pokémon Company has increased production, some of the mania around the Pokémon market appears to be cooling off. Other meme investment options—like NFTs and Gamestop stock—that rose to prominence during the pandemic those asset classes have plunged in value in recent months, in part due to the U.S. Federal Reserve’s interest rate hikes sparking a flight to safer assets.
Pokémon card collectors, however, can instead blame the Pokémon Company’s inflation-taming card printing for their evaporated returns. But Pokémon card players may be thankful that cards are on store shelves again.
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