Fulfilling a promise made this summer to work with retailers and other businesses, Niantic — the software company behind the viral augmented-reality mobile game craze Pokemon Go — has added Starbucks to its growing list of partners, the companies said Thursday.
Some 7,800 company-operated U.S. Starbucks locations now double as so-called PokeStops and Gyms, giving players at the “Trainers” level more places to play, stage battles and earn in-game items. Starbucks has also created a special-edition Pokemon Go Frappuccino.
A day earlier, Niantic announced a similar partnership with mobile operator Sprint to create a special Pokemon Go experience at more than 10,500 Sprint, Boost Mobile and Sprint at Radioshack stores around the U.S.
This summer, Pokemon hunters were fairly easy to spot: People across the country roamed the streets, often in packs, swiping at the monsters in parks, downtowns and malls. By July 15 the game had 56% more paying players than all other mobile games combined, according to Slice Intelligence. The phenomenon had retailers and retail experts debating whether having players chasing the AR monsters into the stores was a boon or a bane for business.
Though a slew of analysts insisted that the game was just the boost retailers needed to revive foot traffic, by the end of July, Pokemon Go’s audience of paying players had already shrunk by 32%. Plus, though Niantic said partnerships with businesses were part of its business plan, few such deals materialized until this month. In fact, Niantic CEO John Hanke told The Wall Street Journal this week not to "expect to see a lot of these types of partnerships from us,” because the company is concerned about cluttering its game.
Moreover, Niantic developers made changes to the game — already lacking staying power, according to many players — that further turned off some of the game's most ardent fans. By August, even Gap CEO Art Peck was complaining about Pokemon Go, saying that players were too busy hunting the pocket monsters to go shopping.
Perhaps these new Starbucks and Sprint deals can help revive what was a colossal if short-lived mobile gaming hit, especially since many children and even adults will have time off from school and work at the holidays, as they were in the summertime. Whether that translates into extra sales for retailers remains to be seen.