Of course it was too good to be true.
The ad certainly sounded promising. Fraser Valley Jobs, an online employment portal, was busy launching a new website, “which hasn’t left us much time for the truly important things in life, like catching ’em all. We’ve been left no choice but to outsource our Pokémon catching to the most qualified trainer that we can find in the Fraser Valley.”
The Pokemon in this case refers to Pokémon Go, the wildly popular mobile game that sees players capturing digital critters in augmented reality as they travel around the real world. The role the site was offering was full time, with a negotiable salary, and demanded not only “knowledge of the Pokémon landscape in the Fraser Valley,” but the willingness to ditch one’s partner at a moment’s notice to hunt down a rare Pokemon, which would make for a pretty interesting conversation on date night.
It’d be nice to say whether or not the ad was legit. Fraser Valley Jobs is an established website, with dozens of listings, but despite repeated attempts to confirm whether anyone had applied (and what their application looked like), the site’s owners didn’t get back to us. Was it a publicity stunt? To drum up some support for the new website, perhaps? The fact that they gleefully reported coverage of the listing in papers like The Globe and Mail certainly points in that direction. Either way, it was a cool idea.
Turns out that players really do want to catch them all themselves.
Whether it was for real or not, the jobs listing is not an isolated incident. Pokémon Go has generated over US$200m for its developers Niantic since launch, and an entire service industry has sprung up to help out the vast numbers of players worldwide (there are over 7.5m in the US alone). The majority are just selling their accounts, each of which contains rare or powered-up Pokemon, but some have taken it a bit further. A quick trawl through Craigslist in several Canadian cities reveals people prepared to be drivers, chauffeuring you around while you catch Pokemon in comfort. A few even had the same idea as Fraser Valley Jobs — they might not be full-timers, but if you’re prepared to pay them, they’ll take your phone and play the game for you, capturing and levelling up your Pokemon while you…spend your leisure time not playing a video game. We don’t know. It seems a little counterintuitive. Regardless, it’s happening, and it’s getting bigger by the day.
But the reality is a little more complicated than that. Simply because a vast number of people have cottoned onto the fact that they can provide ancillary services to a popular thing doesn’t mean there’ll be an uptake. We spoke to two Pokémon drivers (both of whom asked not to be named) and they said there’d been minimal uptake of their services. Turns out that players really do want to catch them all themselves.
The rise in the number of people offering these services might be likened to any burgeoning industry. Dave Marcello, a startup veteran and current head of growth at music market research outfit Audiokite, likens it to the current explosion of virtual reality gaming — which might prove to the greatest thing ever, or go the way of 3D TV and Palm Pilots. “With a lot of these new markets, there’s this elephant in the room,” he says. “We all like to pretend that we know what’s going to happen in the next five or ten years, but there are a lot more misses than hits. Most of us have no frickin’ clue.”
Marcello says that instead of seeing the explosion of Pokémon Pros as something unique to Pokémon Go, we should look at it as just another part of the gig economy — the idea that instead of having full-time jobs, many workers zip between multiple freelance gigs.
“There’s this mindset that the gig economy is a little bit more normal,” Marcello says. “It’s much more normal for me to get into a stranger’s car than it was even five years ago. When something like Pokémon Go happens, that’s where peoples’ minds go. How can I tap into this? How can I use those principles and thoughts to offer up my services? That’s the bigger trend.”
Maybe. But we can think of worse things than playing a mobile game full-time.