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How does Pokemon GO monetize compared to Miitomo?

IAPs from the players' perspective
How does Pokemon GO monetize compared to Miitomo?

The sheer brand recognition of Pokémon, coupled with excitement surrounding the relatively new phenomenon of location-based gaming, has resulted in Pokémon GO drawing attention from those with little prior experience of free-to-play games.

That's a good thing, of course.

However, it has also meant that much of the mainstream coverage of the game - particularly its monetisation - has come with a tinge of negativity.

“The in-app purchases are very real, and they can sting you for up to 159 [Australian] dollars,” warned a representative of on 7 News Sydney.

But is there any real chance of getting “stung” here, or is the squeamishness of the mainstream press down to a lack of understanding of the free-to-play model?

In context

Well, first things first, 159 Australian dollars is the same pricing tier as $99 USD. This means that it's the same upper tier of spending used in almost all free-to-play mobile games, so nothing unusual there.

But let's briefly explain how Pokémon GO works. Powered by GPS, your real-world surroundings form your in-game environment - except with added Pokémon.

Pokémon meets real world locations
Pokémon meets real world locations

As you walk the streets of your city, so too does your created Pokémon trainer. When a Pokémon appears in your proximity, you get a little buzz - before swiping the screen to chuck a Poké Ball at it.

Pokémon GO is only the second indication we've been given of Nintendo's approach to free-to-play monetisation.”

That, in essence, is the game. It may not be complex, but it is understandably an enticing prospect for a generation that's grown up with the series and its cast of cute beasties.

Hidden away

Pokémon GO is only the second indication we've been given of Nintendo's approach to free-to-play monetisation, after the chat app Miitomo.

And while it is technically developed by Niantic Labs, one would assume that Nintendo and the Pokémon Company had significant input in this area - and it appears that some semblance of a style is developing.

For starters, both Pokémon GO and Miitomo favour a very clean UI, choosing not to feature in-game currencies in the top right-hand corner of the screen as is commonplace in free-to-play gaming.

Instead, the shop area in both is hidden within a menu.

<em>Pokémon GO</em>'s Pokécoin store
Pokémon GO's Pokécoin store

It is unclear whether this is an attempt to avoid exposing players to hard currencies right off the bat, or a concession to its young fanbase, but one wonders if it will be able to continue this way when it enters the far more established mobile strategy genre with Fire Emblem.

“Both Miitomo and Pokémon GO feature only a single currency.”

Relatedly, both Miitomo and Pokémon GO feature only a single currency - Miitomo Coins and Pokécoins respectively - which is indicative of a straightforward approach to monetisation.

Reasons to spend

However, as its mobile projects increase in complexity - questions remain as to Pokémon GO's long-term appeal, but there is inarguably more to it than Miitomo - Nintendo is becoming less timid with its implementation.

In Miitomo, coins only really serve two purposes: buying new outfits and playing minigames. This means that the pressure to spend money is practically nil.

In Pokémon GO, however, the range of items you can buy with Pokécoins is much greater.

Pokéballs and Incense on sale
Pokéballs and Incense on sale

First off, the number of Poké Balls - crucial for catching Pokémon - is finite. You can get more for free by travelling to a PokéStop but, should you encounter Pokémon you need in the meantime, that's a compelling reason to spend on Pokécoins to top up.

Another factor is that the appearance of Pokémon in your immediate vicinity is effectively random, meaning you can often be waiting a while for one to show up.

“There is a clear, objective benefit to spending money here.”

IAPs save the day once again, as you can buy Incense - which attracts Pokémon to your location for the next 30 minutes - using Pokécoins.

The third and final item purchasable with Pokécoins is the Lucky Egg, which earns you double XP for the next 30 minutes.

Creating value

None of this constitutes aggressive monetisation by any means, of course.

On the contrary, in fact - Pokécoins can be earned in standard play and there's no need to spend at all.

But there is a clear, objective benefit to spending money here - and a sense that the rhythm of the game has been tuned to gently encourage you to do so - that simply didn't exist in Miitomo.

This is a positive step for both Nintendo's business and Pokémon GO players alike, as having IAPs that represent good value is crucial for both parties.

But despite being out in the US, and it seeming unlikely that it will change dramatically before full launch, Pokémon GO is still technically in soft launch.

As such, we will hold off from giving it the full IAP Inspector treatment just yet.

As it stands, though, Pokémon GO represents far more than just the first Pokémon game on mobile - it's an encouraging, and crucial, step for Nintendo's future as a mobile games company.