Pokémon Go has quickly become the most popular mobile game in the history of smartphones, with hundreds of thousands of new users downloading the app each hour. It’s hard to imagine the phenomenon getting even bigger, but that’s what is going to happen when it launches in Japan. According to Tech Crunch, the birthplace of the Pokémon characters has been left waiting after Nintendo and the Pokémon Company delayed the July 20 launch amidst worries that the country’s dedicated fans would overwhelm the Niantic servers. The delay also looks to be tied to the leak that McDonalds would be the game’s first commercial sponsor.
Up to this point, fans in the more than 30 countries playing Pokémon Go haven’t seen sponsored locations. Of course, that hasn’t stopped creative marketers from capitalizing on the game. Yelp added a feature to let gamers find restaurants with nearby Pokéstops, and restauranteurs in Los Angeles have purchased in-game "lures" to draw even more of the Pokémon to their location.
In Japan, McDonalds will be the first paying sponsor, turning 3,000 fast-food restaurants into "gyms" where players will battle it out. There’s no word on exactly how much McDonalds has paid for the sponsorship, but it’s likely that these types of arrangements will prove lucrative for Niantic. The sponsorship is the first revenue stream for the game beyond the in-app purchases. It will also drive thousands of players to McDonalds. And while all of those gamers will be catching virtual Pokémon, McDonalds clearly hopes that players will need a real-life burger or a coke.
The rollout of sponsored locations will change how the game is played. Until now, there has been a groundswell of players meeting up in green spaces, in front of museums, and on city streets. Curbed Chicago reports that city parks have seen an influx of people seeking Pokémon, as some of the rare ones can only be found in certain areas. In many ways, Pokémon Go has improved cities, encouraging interactions between neighbors and exposing gamers to new spaces they never knew existed.
That will likely continue, but with sponsored locations, commercialized spaces will become more important and a bigger influence on the movement of gamers everywhere. Players might be using augmented-reality to capture fantasy creatures, but potential sponsors are looking to make big time, real-world money.