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The People Making Money off Your ‘Pokémon Go’ Addiction

Your obsession is their profit

Ringer illustration
Ringer illustration

If you work at Niantic, which created Pokémon Go, or Nintendo, which owns a third of Pokémon Company, you are having a very good week. The game has decidedly and cataclysmically taken hold of our phones (and lives), and its grip is only tightening. Nintendo shares surged, and the team responsible for invading the “real world” with Pokémon is the belle of the digital ball.

But they are not the only ones benefiting from the viral hit: Wherever there is a sudden, undeniably popular business — especially one that’s starting a conversation across every demographic — there is a side hustle. Or, in this case, many.

“I didn’t know anything about the game. My son and his girlfriend came over and showed me, and we walked around the neighborhood playing it,” says Chris Amburn. “Then they left to head over to other locations and they were driving around.” And that’s when Amburn realized: There was some money to be made here.

Amburn helps her boyfriend, Grant Fowler, with marketing — he’s a driver for a ride-sharing company in Austin, Texas, called Fare (Uber and Lyft are not allowed in the city). So she took her marketing skills and made an ad highlighting their services for Pokémon Go players — the response was almost immediate. “Chris suggested ‘This might be an interesting tie-in,’ and at first, I had no idea about it,” says Fowler, “but she was right on the money.” They say that over the weekend, the number of rides was up, and people were requesting longer routes in order to pass more Pokéstops and increase their chances of happening upon Pokémon.

They aren’t only in it for the money, though. “We’re really promoting the safety aspect of this as well,” says Fowler. “Let the professionals do the driving for you.”

Amburn and Fowler are far from the only opportunists with a set of wheels and some ambition. Kewei Xu has been driving Pokémon Go players around Houston this week, content to let them hatch eggs and find yet more Sandshrews (so many Sandshrews!) while he pilots. He says he prefers that to the alternative. “I saw some teenagers driving around while playing Pokémon Go. Everyone including the driver was looking at their phone,” he told me via email. He saw a few Craigslist and Reddit posts where people offered to drive, and decided to give it a shot. That doesn’t mean he’s sitting out the game entirely. “I play it every time I get a chance,” he says. Even after a long day, “when I see an Eevee in the area, I will run outside again.” (Xu is currently on Level 10, almost 11 — Team Mystic.)

Xu hasn’t had any strangers contact him yet, but he has been driving his friends around and developing a routine. He has a doctrine for Pokémon Go drivers. Their role is as follows:

  1. Drive from Pokéstop to Pokéstop.
  2. Drive under 20 mph so the players can hatch their eggs and avoid, you know, actually walking. (Drive faster and the game won’t recognize the distance being covered.)
  3. Help players explore; drivers can get to locations quicker and see if there are gyms or Pokéstops (or more Pokémon) that users can’t find on foot.

He’s hoping to get a few more interested customers soon. “I think the funniest thing is to watch a bunch of grown men get super excited to see an Eevee,” says Xu. “And do whatever they could to catch it.”

The Pokémon-spurred side hustle is hardly limited to driving. There are Pokémon Go security details, Pokémon Go egg hunters, and Pokémon Go hackers. Nick Shields, a freelancer who uses Fiverr to get gigs, placed an offer on the site, saying he could provide access for international users unable to play the game, which is currently only available in the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand. For a mere $5, Shields lends out his account to allow people to download the game, so they can create their own accounts to start hunting. Shields says he’s had five inquiries so far. A Craigslist poster named Tim put up an ad in San Francisco offering to run around town hatching eggs for lazier users, but when I asked him about it, he said he’d merely put up the ad as a prank. “I wish I could tell you I was making $10,000 a day,” he wrote, “but so far the only responses have been journalists!” Well played.

I did ask Tim if he were to receive any requests for the service, would he follow through? “Probably not … my 14-year-old son thought it was an amazing idea though. He said, ‘Prepare to get a lot of responses,’ and ‘But seriously, that could be, like, a real business.’” Dad’s response? “Don’t take business advice from 14-year-olds!”