Pokémon Go has been out for a little under two weeks, and it's definitely, uh, a phenomenon. It's getting strangers to talk to one another, to stab each other, and to walk the world until their legs are sore.
But if you think Pokémon Go is drastically different from any other mobile game, I've got one word for you: Pokécoins.
Pokécoins are little golden coins emblazoned with Pikachu's upper body in profile. They can be used to buy pokéballs, but also to get a slew of rarer items, some of which players only otherwise receive when they get lots of points and level up. These include incense and lures, which are used to attract pokémon and "Lucky Eggs," which double the experience points a player gains for a short period of time.
In order to get pokécoins, though, you have to shell out real cash. $0.99 buys you 100 coins, $4.99 buys 500, and so on, up to $99.99 for 14,500 pikabucks.
Because people love mobile gaming, they're paying this price, and taking to Twitter to mourn and/or boast about their exchanges:
mom just told me that dad spent 80 dollars on pokecoins already
— StarGuardian Aznbeat (@Aznbeat) July 15, 2016
I just spent $9.99 on 1200 pokécoins and i hate myself
— Naafiyaa (@naafiyaa98) July 16, 2016
This pokécoin spending shouldn't come as a surprise. In-game transactions are where mobile games make their loot, so they are designed to incentivize you to spend real world dough on virtual goods. Kim Kardashian: Hollywood has made its titular star $45 million, predominantly through in-app purchases. Candy Crush has been monetizing people's impatience for years, getting them to pay to avoid having to wait to keep playing. In games like Clash of Clans, "whales," who are ultra-wealthy, ultra-bored, or both, spend thousands and thousands of dollars on in-game purchases.
An analyst told the Los Angeles Times that he estimated more people were making in-app purchases in Pokémon Go than they do in other games: 20% in Go versus an average of 3%.
Not everyone actually meant to spend the money. Sometimes the purchases were (purportedly) accidental:
I just accidentally bought 1200 pokécoins so there's that
— Bobbi Phelps (@Bobbi_Phelps) July 17, 2016
The in-app purchase situation in Pokémon is probably only going to get more dire (and lucrative) as the game grows. Here's a graph of data from Serebii (a massive online trove of Pokémon information) on how much experience it takes to reach new levels in Pokémon Go:
At around level 20, it's a lot harder for players to level up, because the maximum experience you get from any action is around 500 points but it starts taking 300 times that many points for a player to gain a new level. The tools they can use to speed that up (lures to attract more pokémon, Lucky Eggs to double their experience) are only given to them every five levels.
But they're also available for purchase with pokécoins. So expect to see more tweets like this.
Remember, even with all of the cool augmented reality trappings, Pokémon Go is still a mobile game, with a mobile game business model.
Ethan Chiel is a reporter for Fusion, writing mostly about the internet and technology. You can (and should) email him at firstname.lastname@example.org