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4 years later, and 'Pokémon Go' players have spent nearly $4 billion on the wildly popular smartphone game

  • Just over four years ago, "Pokémon Go" launched for smartphones and sparked a worldwide phenomenon.
  • With tens of millions of players around the world, "Pokémon Go" has been a smash-hit success: Players have spent nearly $4 billion on the game across the last four years, according to Sensor Tower data.
  • As the years have gone on, player spending has actually increased — 2019 was the game's biggest year since launch, with nearly $1 billion spent.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

In July 2016, "Pokémon Go" sparked a worldwide event: Millions of people all over the world were suddenly outside in droves, capturing Pokémon.

As the years have gone on, that all-encompassing level of interest has dissipated. But millions of people are still actively playing "Pokémon Go," and those millions of players have continued spending money on the free-to-play smartphone game.

As of this July, "Pokémon Go" players have spent nearly approximately $3.6 billion, according to mobile analytics firm Sensor Tower.

Perhaps more impressive: 2019 was the game's biggest year yet with just shy of $1 billion spent. 

Despite costing nothing to play, "Pokémon Go" makes money by charging players for in-game items. Those items can be earned by playing the game, but some players instead choose to purchase them with real money. 

It's those optional purchases that drove nearly $4 billion in sales across the last four years — players buying Poké balls, and other consumable items. 

Got a tip? Contact Business Insider senior correspondent Ben Gilbert via email ([email protected]), or Twitter DM (@realbengilbert). We can keep sources anonymous. Use a non-work device to reach out. PR pitches by email only, please.

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4 times that major tech companies, from Apple to Google and Amazon, tried and failed to break into video games

  • Despite decades of trying, most major tech companies have thus far failed to compete in the video game market.
  • From Amazon's Fire TV debacle to Google's ongoing Stadia struggles, tech's biggest players have been unable to crack the code on video games.
  • We've rounded up the most notable missteps into gaming from the biggest tech giants.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Remember Apple's Game Center? How about the video game controller Amazon designed, produced, and sold? 

You're forgiven, of course, if you've forgotten both: They're long-abandoned gaming projects from two companies that, frankly, have a lot of other stuff going on.

And they're just two of several major, multimillion-dollar flops from tech companies trying – and failing – to break into the video game business.

Apple's Game Center.

Apple's Game Center, which launched in 2010, was meant to serve as a kind of platform-level layer across all of Apple's games. What the operating systems on the Xbox and PlayStation are to those platforms, Game Center was for Apple devices.

It had an achievement system, and a friends list, and some light forms of interactivity. But, ultimately, it was a shallow and not very meaningful service that Apple ultimately abandoned.

Operationally, Game Center was fine – if a bit light on features.

The biggest issue Game Center faced, which it ultimately couldn't overcome, was game makers building duplicate functionality into their own games. Rather than implementing Game Center as a ubiquitous, system-level layer across all App Store games, it was optional to App Store game makers. As such, it was used by some games and not by others.

Moreover, it lacked many of the platform-level features that were standards even back in 2010, like messaging and voice chat. Apple eventually removed the service from its iOS and Mac OS devices, and has yet to replace it. 

Amazon's Fire TV gaming initiative, and Amazon's short-lived video game controller.

Widespread set-top box gaming – the idea of playing games natively on an Apple TV, or Amazon Fire TV, or Google Chromecast – has long been a pipe dream of the tech industry.

Every year or two, an analyst and/or a journalist will make the bold prediction that, yes, this is the year where Apple or some other tech giant makes the ambitious move into video games with a box that may already be under your TV right now. 

Yet, year after year, that fantasy never materializes. But that doesn't mean the tech giants have never tried.

Back in 2014, Amazon launched a version of its Fire TV set-top box alongside a brand new gamepad and a big-ish amount of support from some notable game developers. The company even launched its own in-house game for the device, named "Sev Zero." But gaming on Fire TV never took off, and by just a few years later the Fire TV set-top box turned into a stick.

You can still play games on the Fire TV stick, of course, but Amazon has largely moved away from pushing the device at gamers. And the company no longer makes nor sells a gamepad.

Amazon's recent game, "Crucible."

Did you know that Amazon, the biggest company in the world, launched a big-budget new game this year?

The game is called "Crucible," and you're forgiven if this is the first you're hearing about it. Despite being free-to-play and available on the world's largest gaming platform, Steam, "Crucible" has already come and gone from the top 100 charts.

As of May 21, the day after it launched, "Crucible" had around 25,000 concurrent players at peak. By May 22, two days after launch, it had already disappeared from Steam's top 100 — a list of most-played games on Steam that bottoms out around 5,000 concurrent players. 

Which is to say: As of May 22, two days after launch, fewer than 5,000 people were playing "Crucible" at any given time. By comparison, the most-played game on Steam averages around 1 million concurrent players.

Just over a month after launch, and Amazon outright pulled the game from Steam. "Starting tomorrow, 'Crucible' is moving to closed beta," a note posted to the game's developer blog said.

Notably, "Crucible" was in development for over five years. It assuredly cost tens of millions of dollars to develop across that time. 

Google Stadia.

After years of development and hype, Google's long-rumored push into video games arrived last November with the launch of Google Stadia.

Google Stadia isn't a game console, nor is it a game platform, really — it's a digital storefront run by Google where you can buy individual games. It's a hugely ambitious new platform, and it aimed to be the Netflix of gaming. 

What makes Stadia so ambitious? Rather than downloading games or playing them off a Blu-ray disc, Stadia streams games to you wherever you are, like Netflix streams movies and TV shows.

However, eight months later and Google's Stadia has failed to make a splash. Multiplayer modes for games like "Destiny 2" sit unpopulated, and interest has dwindled over time. The service has yet to launch on Apple's ubiquitous iOS devices, and there's no sign of that changing. 

To its credit, Google appears to not be giving up just yet. The tech behemoth continues to make big hires and acquisitions for its big gaming initiative. Thus far, though, the venture is not going well.

Got a tip? Contact Business Insider senior correspondent Ben Gilbert via email ([email protected]), or Twitter DM (@realbengilbert). We can keep sources anonymous. Use a non-work device to reach out. PR pitches by email only, please.

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Nintendo’s Animal Crossing Is Spawning Real-Life Commerce

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Nintendo Co.’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons has proven more than just an oasis of calm in the coronavirus storm. In China, the video game has spawned an entire virtual marketplace of online goods that are paid for with real money.

Such is the demand for Animal Crossing digital decorations and animated friends that a legion of e-commerce hawkers has emerged, selling almost everything a player needs to perfect their video game island abode. On Taobao, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s internet marketplace, there are already more than 4,000 Animal Crossing stores. Nintendo explicitly forbids the practice, but New Horizons isn’t officially available in China, and gamers there are already accustomed to buying gray-market copies of lots of things online.

One Taobao vendor, who asked to be identified only as Pamela, says she’s made more than 100,000 yuan ($14,100) acquiring and selling Animal Crossing items since the end of April. The veteran apparel-shop owner started her new venture after she bought six Nintendo Switch consoles and some add-on software that allows her to churn out infinite resources in the game by changing its code. She’s hired three staff, who each have two consoles and work in shifts to connect in-game with buyers. The money she’s made has easily covered her 60,000 yuan initial outlay. Customers spend around 50 yuan each on average, she says, though one splashed out 800 yuan to buy some new online interior decor that Pamela designed herself.

New Horizons is the fifth title in the Animal Crossing series and was released in late March, when most of the world was already in some sort of coronavirus lockdown. The game, a simulation of idyllic, pastel-colored island life, was an instant hit. Players can fish, garden, do a bit of carpentry, or just hang out with friends—mundane real-world activities that took on a delicious quality when everyone was confined to their houses. Its cartoony style and relaxed gameplay were a perfect digital antidote to Covid-19: New Horizons quickly became Nintendo’s best-selling Switch debut, also helping to spur console sales.

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Pamela’s story illustrates a unique gamer culture in the world’s second-largest economy, where there’s an insatiable desire to keep up with social media trends and have all the latest and greatest in-game gadgets. When large corporations don’t act swiftly, China’s thousands of small merchants swing into action with the entrepreneurial ingenuity to make it happen. While some in-game items have popped up for sale on EBay Inc. pages, Chinese vendors have elevated the art. Nintendo, whose terms of service specifically request players not conduct trades for real money, declined to comment.

“Chinese gamers will pay to win a video game,” says Zeng Xiaofeng, a Shanghai-based analyst with game research firm Niko Partners. “It could be a win in the battleground, or a win on social media as to who has the prettiest cat or house.” While China keeps a tight leash on official channels for console and game sales, Niko estimates mobile offerings with in-app purchases have grown into an $18.5 billion industry in the country. The same appetite to present a successful social media image drives people to obtain items such as rare weapons and cosmetics in mobile games and fuels real-money spending, Zeng says.

One of the quirks of Animal Crossing’s virtual economy echoes the Dutch tulip-buying craze. Instead of tulips, players use bells, the in-game currency, to buy turnips, which they then sell to two raccoon vendors. The market-making raccoons offer different prices on each island and revise how much they’ll pay twice a day, encouraging players to connect with friends who also have turnips to sell and go island-hopping to find the best price. Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s WeChat—China’s dominant social network—now hosts limited-functionality, or so-called lite, apps designed to make turnip trading quicker.

Scarlet Wang shops for Animal Crossing gear on Taobao regularly. Since the game’s release, the Beijing-based tech worker has dedicated most of her evenings to developing her in-game island, spending around 500 yuan on digital coins and cosmetics she couldn’t have earned unless she’d spent many more hours playing the game. “Money buys me happiness,” the 29-year-old says. “The most important thing is that I saved my time.”

For players like Wang, Animal Crossing: New Horizons offers a change of pace from the usual hack-and-slash games, or those that emphasize combat, often with a large serving of gore and guts. Spending on in-game resources allows Wang to focus on the fun and wholesome elements, she says, like growing hybrid flowers or designing an island layout.

Angie Li is another convert. To secure the best price for her turnips, the 30-year-old communications specialist scours Alibaba’s secondary marketplace, called Idle Fish, for players who will let her visit their island to make a sale in return for a small entry fee, typically around 5 yuan. Li buys turnips on her own island for less than 100 bells and can offload them for six times that, making a digital windfall with the help of real money. With her online profit, she buys decor for her island home. “I’ll decorate my house with things I can’t afford in real life, and then just lie there,” she says.

Read More: Video Games Are the New Kings of Media, Even for Garth Brooks

— With assistance by Takashi Mochizuki

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