It's All About Who You Know (or Knew)

Not one to be left out of mainstream pop culture, I got a quick tutorial on Pokémon GO from my niece and set out to download the app for myself for a test drive. It seemed like a pretty cool way to leverage Google Maps, at least.

I expected the price to be a few bucks, but it was free. After the download, in order to open the game, it requires registration using a Gmail account. After a few moments of angst about the assumption that everyone has one of these account, I started thinking about the necessary partnership the game makers would need to have with Google to support this. (Yes, I’m more interested in the business structure than in “finding them all.”)

A quick Google search (where else) brought me some interesting information from Android Headlines. The article outlines the pedigree of Niantic Labs (creators of the game), as having once been a Google division, but having rolled out a few years ago.

This data got me thinking back to watching my niece play this free game that appeared to not have any ads. The media keep citing big dollars associated with the app… So, where is the revenue generation?

While I don’t know who pays whom what, there are certainly valuable assets being created through the embedded connections between Niantic Labs products and Google. Playing the game automatically generates new data about mobile activity for Google, which could be applied both as aggregated data for market trends but also as more precisely targeted promotion through Google’s paid channels.

None of these integrated streams of value exchange – free games for users in return for data, which is sold or traded to marketers – could have been created without the original network and connections between Google and the former employees running Niantic. This represents only part of the relationship equation, because an entirely different set of people had to link in order to bring Pikachu and friends to a handheld theater near you.

Moral of the story: It’s always good to be networking, but don’t forget to maintain the relationships you already have.