Pokémon Go is a little more than a week old, but its rise to the top of App Store charts has prompted a surge in cottage industries. Rideshare drivers chauffeur players around to catch Pokemon and check in at Poke Stops. Businesses are using Lures—for the low, low rate of $1.19 per hour—to draw customers and boost sales. Thumbtack, an online marketplace for expert services, is soliciting Pokemon experts to guide n00bs.
And now users with high-level accounts featuring the hottest Pokemon are selling to players willing to pay a premium to avoid grinding (and walking—lots and lots of walking). You can find Pokémon Go accounts, from levels in the high teens to the low 20s, with powerful and rare Pokemon for sale on Craigslist, Facebook and elsewhere.
In case you’ve just stumbled out of a cave and onto the Internet: Pokémon Go is a mobile game that tasks players with roaming their surroundings and capturing tiny creatures (said Pokémon). The more Pokémon you capture and the more milestones you achieve, the more experience points you get; as those experience points mount and you level up, the likelier you are to find rare, high-value Pokémon. In-game purchases can also help you level up quickly. Once a player levels up enough, though, selling their account can more than recoup their in-game investment.
Listings appearing on sites like Craigslist and Facebook have been shortlived, especially when game developers send takedown notices for terms of service violations: I saw several Craigslist posts taken down minutes after appearing. But there are marketplaces that cater to this kind of transaction, controversial for the advantage it bestows on players who can afford to purchase it.
Selling accounts has long been a part of mobile and PC gaming. Skipping the grunt work of leveling up always will appeal to people who want the enjoyment of competing at the highest levels but don’t want to invest the time. PC games like World of Warcraft and mobile games like Clash of Clans generate tremendous interest on the secondary market. But Pokémon Go‘s path from overnight sensation to lucrative industry was remarkably short.
“I’ve never seen so much attention towards a game like this at such an early stage,” says Eric Schweitzer, CEO of PlayerUp, one of many platforms that facilitates buying and selling game accounts.
And don’t look for the market to Slowbro down. Schweitzer says the market for Pokémon Go accounts is just beginning, and could balloon faster than a Rapidash. “It takes time for games to peak. World of Warcraft took three to six years, two to three years for Clash of Clans to build up,” he says. “Pokémon Go will probably follow the same path as long as they continue to make improvements to the game.”
At the beginning of a mobile game’s life cycle, fewer players want to buy an established account—they want to explore a bit, and get a feel for the gameplay. If players decide they like the game, the secondary markets grows. At the rate Pokémon Go is going, that’s all but certain. “We have nowhere near the traffic in Pokémon Go that we do in Clash of Clans,” Schweitzer says. “But I’m sure over time it’s going to build up.”