On its way up to the top of the app store charts, Pokémon GO has broken plenty of records. Since its launch in early July, the game has easily become the most popular mobile game of all time, while raking in an estimated $6 million a day in the U.S. alone.
Niantic Labs, the game’s developer, isn’t the only one that has benefitted from the smashing success of its second game.
A handful of Pokémon-related apps have popped up in the last three weeks. Some are knockoff games. Others help Pokémon GO players find dates. Most, however, aid obsessed players to locate virtual Pokémon in their quests to catch them all.
As of late Wednesday, there were three Pokémon-locating programs among the top 1oo free apps of Apple’s App Store, among them Poké Radar, which occupied the no. 2 spot for most of July. (It was down to the fourth spot on Wednesday.) The app’s creator, a 23-year-old University of Washington dropout named Braydon Batungbacal, said he never could have anticipated the demand for his product, which has been downloaded at least 10 times more than his next popular piece of software.
“It kind of reminds me of very early days of Facebook when they opened up the app ecosystem,” he said. “People were leveraging their success, and there was a whole ecosystem of businesses came from that.”
The free-to-download Poké Radar is part of an internet economy that has spawned around Pokémon GO. People have offered rides on Craigslist to find virtual monsters, early adopters have sold high-level accounts on eBay and dozens of developers have spun up small apps and websites to take advantage of the craze.
In dealing with international demand, Batungbacal and two engineer friends have barely slept, staying up late to ensure that own servers don’t crash. As of last week, the app was seeing between 3 million to 4 million daily active users, and he was spending about $1,000 a day on server costs.
Batungbacal noted that much of his app’s success was down to the fact that there “was little instruction and handholding” to Pokémon GO when it launched and that players were forced to figure out much of the gameplay by themselves. Because of this, users flocked to other sites or apps to learn how to play or gain competitive advantages.
Pokévision.com, a website that that uses the game’s own data to determine where digital creatures will appear and for how long, is also a fan favorite. Unlike Poké Radar, which mainly relies on users self-reporting the locations of Pokémon, the site takes data that the Pokémon GO app is already sending to players to create real-time maps of where there are Pikachus or Squirtles. For example, if you wanted to see what Pokémon are currently in New York’s Central Park, the service would scrape data from Pokémon GO and provide you with a concise view of all the types of monsters in that area.
Yangcheng Liu, a University of Michigan neuroscience graduate, said he was motivated to build Pokévision for himself and his friends after he became frustrated with finding Pokémon. A feature in the actual app that is supposed to help players locate creatures has long been broken, he noted.
“It’s hard to play the game in its current form,” Liu said. “Once you hit level 20 or something it’s impossible, especially if you’re in a rural area. Let’s say you live in some rural area, and you drove into another town expecting new Pokémon, but you don’t find them. You’d get angry at the game and say ‘what the hell this game doesn’t work!’”
Like Batungbacal, Liu is also paying for his site’s upkeep out of pocket. He’s taken some time off work to focus on the site, which had 27 million unique users in the last five days despite numerous outages. Liu, however, said he doesn’t expect to make money on his endeavors and that services like this “should always be free.” (He does have some ads on the site and asks for donations to help take care of some of the maintenance costs.)
Thus far, Niantic, which has troubles keeping its own servers online, has not said anything publicly about the existence of monster-locating apps, though CEO John Hanke told FORBES that he’s “not a fan.” While he laughed about people putting their phones on model train sets or on turntables so that steps could be counted for the game, he drew the line at others applications using the company’s data.
“We have priorities right now, but they might find in the future that those things may not work,” he said. “People are only hurting themselves because it takes some fun out of the game. People are hacking around try to take data out of our system and that’s against our terms of service.”
Liu hasn’t received any warnings from Niantic and is open to dialogue with the company. He believes what he is doing is a “net positive” to the game by keeping users interested and playing. Batungbacal said he did receive a complaint notice from Niantic that implied that the company thought he was using its data to power Poké Radar. Niantic was also unhappy that the app’s logo and design was too similar to Pokémon GO’s, he said.
Still, it was not a direct request to take down the app, according to Batungbacal.
“It’s free,” he said. “We claimed it was a fan-made app and they would look like assholes in taking down an app made by fans.”
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