The Sunday sermon at the King’s Way Assembly of God in Versailles, Ky., had just finished and Cody Menefee, 20, was outside talking about Pokémon GO with some friends.
Menefee, a college student at Southeastern University in Florida, was half joking, half complaining about how the game required players to walk a certain distance in order to hatch a Pokémon egg. That’s when Menefee’s friend David Christian, 24, had a flash of genius.
“Well you can pay me,” Christian told the group of friends. “I’ll go for a run, I’ll put all your phones in my backpack and go for a run, and ya’ll can just pay me. I’ll get them to hatch, it’s no big deal.”
Menefee loved the offer so much, he wrote up a Craigslist ad Sunday on behalf of Christian.
Christian, a University of Kentucky alumnus who manages his father’s business Christian Electric Plus, has yet to receive a formal response to his ad but that may soon change considering Pokémon GO is “the fastest mobile game ever to reach No. 1 in terms of revenues on iOS and Android,” VentureBeat reported.
The Pokémon GO spinoff economy is no fluke.
Menefee’s ad was the only Pokémon GO-related one on Craigslist for nearly 24 hours in the Cincinnati-Louisville-Lexington area. On Wednesday, the number of Pokémon ads jumped to eight. All of the Pokémon GO Craigslist posts were to drive players around to “Catch ‘Em All” as the game’s slogan suggests.
Craigslist boards around the country have seen a similar spike in offers catering to the Pokémon GO enthusiast. Baltimore’s Craigslist board has seen offers for drivers while one woman in New York City made national news by offering to train people in the game for $20 an hour.
While the mainstream media and opportunists salivate over the Pokémon GO spinoff economy, this recent phenomenon is nothing new in the world of gaming, said Ethan Mollick, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. Mollick has been researching entrepreneurship in innovative games and business for more than 15 years.
“In the mid-2000s there were estimates that there were 100,000 people in China that were full-time gold farmers,” Mollick told me over the phone Wednesday evening. “They would play games like World of Warcraft and kill monsters and collect items and sell them on real currency exchange sites. The real world economy for virtual worlds has always been in the hundreds of millions of dollars for at least a decade.”
Mollick believes that over time, Niantic, Inc., the co-developer of the game along with Nintendo, will crack down on such Craigslist offers because they eat into the company’s revenue. The Pokémon trainer in New York, for example, ultimately took down her Craigslist offer in fear of violating Niantic’s terms of service.
What’s undeniable is the demand for such services, which is something Niantic should take heed of, Mollick added.
“There’s been a lot of models you can follow that allow people in the real world to act as agents,” Mollick said. “There’s a lot of games that have spawned side economies, the difference here is this one happens outdoors, so it’s much more visible and a news item.”
One spinoff economy that took a few years to mature was related to Snapchat. At the forefront of this economy has been the creative studio and technology company Delmondo which works with brands and media companies to produce content on Snapchat. The founder of the company is Nick Cicero.
“Original ideas are few and far between. When new ideas come out, there are going to be people who see opportunity in helping other people figure out something that’s really hot because they’re trading attention time,” Cicero told me this morning over the phone. “We had a huge platform economy grow around Facebook; people who wanted to help you get better at making Facebook pages. If Pokémon GO lasts, I absolutely think that we’ll see a ton of this.”