Originally touted as a way to integrate the real world into a video game, many saw this move as a positive one- forcing gamers off the couch and onto the sidewalks for the ultimate bragging rights. Of course, others have looked for ways to “cheat” the game’s version of a pedometer with such workarounds as taping your phone to a ceiling fan or harnessing it to a, comparatively more active, family pet. It’s not just fans looking to “show-up” their friends that have gotten in on the craze. This summer, myriad millenials, and even professionals that found themselves with a bit too much free time could be seen in large public areas, stopping randomly, and then flicking at the screen on their phones, until… a smile peeks, as they continue heading wherever they were meaning to go. It’s all good, clean, mass appealing fun, right? Well, not for everyone.
While the terms and agreement for the game strictly forbid the sale of accounts, eBay is filled with them. Even more striking is that an entire corner of the deep web, is now dedicated to the black market sale of high level Pokémon accounts. If there’s money to be made, methods can become questionable, and one particular method has Niantic, the distribution and development house for Pokémon Go, in the spotlight for reasons they’d likely wish would go away.
Picture this: Kevin, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, wakes up at a free shelter in St. Louis’ historic downtown district. His only worldly possessions sit in the backpack he rests his head on. Around 7 am, he gets ready to go out for a walk. Next to him sits two surge protectors, daisy chained together (residents are only allowed one outlet) powering 9 smartphones and a power brick that provides the extra juice needed to keep his highest valued customers’ phones going the extra, literal, mile. Kevin’s “clients”, as he calls them, provide him with food and a bit of money at the end of the day. In exchange, Kevin keeps all phones turned on, tracking his steps, as he wanders aimlessly hatching eggs. He pauses at public parks and Pokéstops, that he has now memorized, to take turns swapping between phones for their rewards. “I catch Pokémon too, but my clients mostly want lucky eggs hatched. I hatch about 50 eggs a day. It keeps them happy.” On average, one must walk five kilometers, which the average american knows converts into “a pretty long ways”, to hatch one egg. Multiple incubators expedite the process by allowing simultaneous hatchings.
Kevin will walk from 8am till 5pm today, with his only stops purely for the business of catching Pokémon. “My only real joy in life comes at the end of the day. That’s when I get fed. Oh, and the new Pikachu with the Santa hat makes me smile.” With the average account selling for $1 dollar to every skill level point, and Kevin averaging 6 levels a day across nine different phones, his efforts will provide his clients with $378 dollars worth of Poképroduct. For his tireless efforts, Kevin will be rewarded with a paltry $5 dollars per day for food. It isn’t a very profitable business, and Kevin admits that more than half of his clients won’t be selling their account and just needed someone to do the walking. Still, it is disheartening that this holiday season Kevin, and others like him, will walk in the cold so that young millennials seeking reward without effort will be able to win virtual battles with fictitious cartoon monsters.
-Contributed by Jackie Coime