Sponsored locations aren't new to Niantic games. Companies like Sprint, McDonald's and AT&T have had sponsored locations in games like Pokémon GO and Harry Potter: Wizards Unite for a long while now. The idea: by turning your business into a big in-game beacon and giving players some reason to stop by, you increase foot traffic.
So far, though, the sponsorship system has really only been open to these mega chains. Starbucks got to turn all of its stores into sponsored Pokéstops at the height of the Pokémon GO craze, but the little mom-and-pop coffee shop down the street? No such luck.
That'll change later this year, as the company opens a self-serve platform for small to medium-sized businesses looking to light up sponsored locations in-game.
Details are still somewhat light, but Niantic says that they'll start accepting applications tomorrow and roll out an "early access" beta program later this year. As with pretty much everything Niantic does, they're rolling it out on a region-by-region basis; in this case, it'll only be open to U.S. businesses at first. The first new sponsored locations should start showing up in December.
"Sponsored" locations tend to have slight perks over their non-sponsored counterparts. Sponsored gyms in Pokémon GO, for example, are almost always "EX Raid" locations — which in GO-speak just means that battling there might get you a ticket to a bigger, badder, invite-only boss battle in the weeks that follow. Sponsored fortresses in Harry Potter: Wizards Unite give out more XP and more of the spell energy required to play.
Beyond being able to pay to have a sponsored in-game location, these businesses will also be able to pay to schedule things like Pokémon GO raids (read: bigger, co-operative boss battles that often require 5-10 players working together to win) during time slots when foot traffic might be slow. And because getting foot traffic is only part of the equation, sponsored businesses will also be able to offer up deals and promotions in-game to (hopefully) turn those passing by into paying customers.
Niantic also says that businesses will be able to host other on-site "mini-games" beyond GO raids in the future, but didn't elaborate on what those might be.
According to this page, Niantic will offer two plans:
- $30 per month gets you one Pokéstop, with the ability to change its image/description/promotion once per month
- $60 per month gets you a gym, with the ability to schedule one hour of raiding per month. This plan allows you to change the image/description/promotion twice per month.
Niantic says that small businesses can have one stop or gym per physical location, and up to 30 per chain.
It'll be interesting to see how this plays out, and if/how it impacts things in-game. While Pokémon GO isn't the overwhelmingly popular monster of a game that it was at launch, it can still cause crowds to pop up out of nowhere — particularly when new Pokémon appear as raid bosses, or when they've got some limited-time event going on. Will sponsoring a raid cause fewer raids nearby (to maximize visibility of the sponsored spot), or will more of them pop up nearby to hook groups looking to do multiple raids in one swoop?