Pokémon GO Creator Says Sponsored Locations Are Better Than Micro-Transactions—If Your Game Is Big Enough

It helps when every business is falling over itself to sponsor you.

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In-app purchases of items and other bonuses in free mobile games are common, and they’ve certainly made Pokémon GO a lot of money so far, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the best thing for the game. Players need incentive to spend their money, which can have an affect on gameplay, and Niantic CEO John Hanke much prefers the sponsored location deal they’re launching with McDonald’s in Japan.

What happens with “free to play” games is that in-app purchases meant to ensure the developer can keep the lights on—and the servers running, in the case of online games—can turn that into “pay to win.” Players willing to dump tons of cash into bonuses can progress in the game faster, which is particularly harmful in games where players face off head-to-head, as they do in Pokémon GO through the ongoing gym turf wars. One could argue that players shouldn’t be reluctant to pay a bit in a free game they play a lot, but it’s a hard line to draw between that and the developer squeezing players for cash and turning them off to the game altogether.

Like ads on the Internet—and in games, which is another business model used by free mobile games—sponsored locations might be able to alleviate some of that problem and keep everyone happy, devs and players alike … at least with games as location-based and popular as Pokémon GO. John Hanke, CEO of Pokémon GO developer Niantic, explained to Forbes in an interview that their previous game, Ingress, was meant to use the location-based business model, but they eventually had to cave and institute micro-transactions.

That carried over to Pokémon GO, but the latter’s success has allowed them to finally return to that original intention. Hanke said, “My belief is that the sponsored-location model is a better business model for games. The idea with real world games was to build an advertising model that is deeply tied to the way the game itself works … so it doesn’t break the flow of the game. It doesn’t feel like something is grafted on. That’s what we’re trying to do, and it will provide a compliment to in-app purchase.” He added that the purchases would still make up most of the game’s revenue, but sponsored locations would allow them not to pressure customers too hard to pay.

That’s good news, considering Pokémon GO‘s current micro-transactions aren’t terribly intrusive, and you can play and compete just fine without them. If you take over a gym, you can even earn some of the in-game currency you might otherwise have to pay for just by playing the game, which is a nice touch that not every developer is willing to afford their players.

Hanke also covered some other aspects of the game in the interview, including what he thinks about those online mapping services that allow players to pinpoint the location of any Pokémon anywhere. (Hint: He’s not thrilled about them, and they’re probably going to get shut down. Let’s hope they fix in-game tracking soon.)

(via Gamasutra, image via Niantic)

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Dan Van Winkle
Dan Van Winkle (he) is an editor and manager who has been working in digital media since 2013, first at now-defunct <em>Geekosystem</em> (RIP), and then at <em>The Mary Sue</em> starting in 2014, specializing in gaming, science, and technology. Outside of his professional experience, he has been active in video game modding and development as a hobby for many years. He lives in North Carolina with Lisa Brown (his wife) and Liz Lemon (their dog), both of whom are the best, and you will regret challenging him at <em>Smash Bros.</em>