Pokemon

Is Pokemon Go becoming pay-to-play?

by Paul Cotton
Pokemon Company

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Pokemon Go is a free-to-play game which since its release hasn't really forced players to spend real money. However, recent developments in the game suggest Niantic may be adopting more of a monetization business strategy.

Pokemon Go has evolved (see what we did there) into more than just catching Pokemon. Egg hatching, special events, Raid Battles, the new Buddy System and most recently the much hyped GO Battle League have made the mobile game almost unrecognizable from what it was when it released in July 2016.

You have always been able to purchase in-game currency (PokeCoins) for real money via the Pokemon Go Shop. This was for the super serious trainers though, who didn't want to wait to find specific items.

Pokemon Go Shop PokeCoins
Pokemon Go Shop PokeCoins
You can buy and spend PokeCoins in the Pokemon Go Shop...

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Nevertheless, this wasn't something trainers needed to do to make the most out the game. It is only since these new features have been added, along with a few interesting ploys from Niantic, that Pokemon Go appears to be moving more towards a pay-to-play style of game.

As of January 2020 you can still enjoy the game to its fullest without spending real money but the incentive to part with your cash is as great as ever. What has changed, though?

Incentive to spend money

Well, the incentive to spend real money has increased. Let's take egg hatching as an example.

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Egg hatching

Some Pokemon are only available in eggs, especially 10km ones. On top of this some shiny variants can be only be found by hatching eggs..

Without buying extra Egg Incubators or Super Incubators, you only have one infinite use Egg Incubator. Naturally, this is in use at all times, if you're hatching eggs.

So, you have to walk the full 10km eggs to hatch a 10km egg. This is unless you spend some of your hard earned PokeCoins on some form of incubator so you can have concurrent eggs incubating. This is just one part of Pokemon Go that has become more tempting to spend money on.

Pokemon Go Monetization
Nintendo Life
You'd have thought Pokemon Go earns Niantic and the Pokemon Company a lot of money!

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Raid Battles

The introduction of Raid Battles in June of 2017 was the first feature to give a real benefit to spending money. You can participate in Raid Battles by using a Free Raid Pass or Premium Raid Pass. The former can only be used once a day, however. The premium pass costs 100 PokeCoins.

As a lot of you will know, Raid Battles feature some of the most powerful Pokemon on the game. Various legends are featured in five-star Raids, switching up on a close to monthly basis. Due to the IV floor of catching Pokemon via a Raid Battle, defeating them is among the best way to build a strong battling team.

It's also an excellent way to encounter shiny Pokemon, albeit still unlikely. The problem is you're limited to how many Raids you can do in a given day, unless you want to dig into your pockets, of course.

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This, combined with the fact higher level Raid Bosses are difficult to defeat, means you can go through Raid Passes a lot quicker than you'd like. Something that Niantic and co won't lose too much sleep over!

Lapras Research Breakthrough Reward
Pokemon Company
It will be interesting to see which Pokemon is the breakthrough encounter reward for February...

Legendary Pokemon harder to come by

The need to win four and five-star Raid Battles has become greater in recent months. Previously you could encounter a rare legendary Pokemon once a week by completing field research tasks.

Upon earning seven field research stamps you would earn an encounter with one of the legendary Pokemon from the breakthrough research pool. Despite their CP range being limited, it was easy to capture the likes of Zapdos, Entei, Lugia and co - but perhaps it was too easy.

Niantic had fell into the trap of making legends too common. There was no longer any excitement when encountering them. It also made Raid Battles less appealing - something that resulted in less in-game currency being spent.

In September 2019, the research breakthrough reward encounters didn't include a legendary Pokemon for the first time. Instead 'Flower Crown' Eevee featured, something that trainers weren't exactly fond of.

This appeared to be Niantic testing the water as the same thing happened in January 2020. Instead of a legend, we got Lapras with special moves. Now, there's nothing wrong with Lapras, in fact it's quite the fan favorite, but compared to the legends that were previously available it is undoubtedly a step down.

Buddy Adventure

Then, just last month (December 2019) came the new and improved Pokemon Go buddy system. This brought more ways to connect, interact, and explore the world with your special chosen Pokemon.

Part of the new system is to get your buddy excited by interacting with it in various ways. Yet, without purchasing a Poffin, it's very difficult to make it excited which means ascending through the buddy ranks takes longer.

Much like the Pokemon Go friends feature, you and your buddy are ranked on a tiered system going from "Good Buddy" to "Best Buddy". Each of these levels brings with it various perks which is why it will be tempting for some trainers to go out of their way and buy the Poffin.

It maybe small, and only cost 100 PokeCoins, but this is just another example of Niantic providing an additional incentive to spend money.

Pokemon behind a pay wall?

Elsewhere some Pokemon have even been introduced to the game and put behind a pay wall - at least kind of. Regigigias was finally added to the mobile game via a special research story event.

However, in order to get the Colossal Pokemon, this was a special event which cost to participate in. Since then it has been available in EX Raids, which technically means it isn't exclusively behind a pay wall.

As long-term Pokemon Go trainers will be all too aware though, it is difficult to get an invite to EX Raid Battles, and they don't come around too often.

As Reddit user ray0923 pointed out: "I think Niantic is shifting their strategy to create more pay-to-play contents. Most of the old features are not here to earn lots of money. They are here to make you addicted to this game by playing daily. They are here to cultivate a large player base for this game."

Based on what we've seen over the years it certainly looks like he could be right about this. The strategy is brilliant - build the player base and then make spending money more of a necessity.

You can still enjoy Pokemon Go without having to spend real money but it certainly looks like Niantic have shifted gears towards focusing on monetization now that the game has matured and has its huge player base.