Pokemon Go: Is the popular mobile game pay to win?

Pokemon Go, is it pay to win? header image

Pokemon Go has been an ongoing success for years now, but for those who haven’t tried it yet, is the game pay-to-win? Let’s find out.

We touched on this topic somewhat in our other article about Pokemon Go recently, though this article is going to be exclusively focused on it.

Is Pokemon Go Pay to Win?

Pay to Win is the term that hovers over just about any F2P game that has an option to buy things with real money, which is fairly justified when you consider that games can be entirely ruined if the Pay to Win is bad enough.

But is Pokemon Go one of those games? Not really. There is certainly a pay-for-convenience element going throughout the game, but pay to win is a step too far for this popular mobile title.

What pay-to-win elements are in Pokemon Go?

Pokemon Go has two primary currencies, Stardust and PokeCoins.

Stardust is earned in small amounts in all manner of ways and is used primarily for interacting with and strengthening your Pokemon. Running out of Stardust can be a very common problem while trying to beef up your Team, and going premium doesn’t really help with this as there’s no way to purchase Stardust directly.

Stardust blast event title image 2019 (How to get stardust Pokemon Go)
Stardust is represented by a colourful powder inside a vial in Pokemon Go
Credit: PokemonGoLive

PokeCoins on the other hand are the store currency of Pokemon Go – they can still be earned by F2P players quite regularly, but are also available for purchase with real money. This is where the primary angle of an argument that Pokemon Go could be pay-to-win is likely to be focused.

There is a bit of a counterargument to that though. The store simply isn’t that important.

A significant amount of items in the store simply aren’t worth buying, I even wrote an article about it to help players not fall into possible PokeCoin-traps. Of course not worth buying doesn’t mean that no one is buying them, and it’s likely there are some players pouring insane amounts of money into the game buying the likes of Pokeball items even if free ways to get the items easily exist.

A Pokeball in Pokemon Origins
Pokeballs for example are very easy to get from both Gifts and PokeStops, but that doesn’t mean that no one is buying them from the store anyway.
Credit: Bulbapedia

But that doesn’t make it pay-to-win, those players are paying for convenience. Even then, that’s a stretch given some of the store items simply shouldn’t be listed at all due to how easy to get they are.

Now, with the store and items out of the way, let’s move on to Tickets.

Pokemon Go – Event Tickets

Event tickets are one of the only things, if not possibly the literal only thing, in the game outside of buying PokeCoins that is explicitly available for money only.

Event tickets are typically available during Community day events, such as the upcoming August 2021 Community day featuring Eevee, or much larger events such as the Pokemon Go Fest 2021 that we had back in mid-July.

Pokemon Go Fest Changes Title image
Pokemon Go Fest is one of the events that has a Ticketed portion, though the F2P Playerbase also gets plenty to do during it as well.
Credit: PokemonGoLive

Community day tickets usually cost around $1 or the regional pricing equivalent, while large event tickets such as the one for Go Fest 2021 can cost more – in the case of this Go Fest, it was $5. It should be mentioned that the last Go Fest was $14.99 instead. These tickets usually give you extra tasks to do during the event which each come with their own rewards and in some cases, storylines.

The rewards aren’t usually anything particularly amazing. In some cases they allow you to access things more easily – for example, Unown can be difficult for F2P players to obtain as it rarely appears in Free events but did make an appearance during Go Fest 2021 for ticketed players.

In short, there are some advantages to those tickets, but again, we’re more talking about pay-for-convenience than anything actually pay to win here.

Is there anything else to be aware of?

Pokemon Go does have raid bosses, which require passes to fight. Now, these raid passes are accessible to F2P players by using freely gathered PokeCoins, but premium players can simply buy new passes, thus having an easier time accessing raids. These raids do feature very powerful Pokemon in the form of 5* raids, typically Legendary Pokemon – the likes of Mewtwo, and Mega Raids – that give access to Mega Evolutions such as Mega Charizard.

Mewtwo using Shadow ball (used in Pokemon Go Pay to win)
Having more Raid passes will let you fight Mewtwo more often, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll win, or capture Mewtwo.
Credit: KnowYourMeme

You do still need to win the raid though, so while having easy access to the raid is an advantage, you can’t simply get Mewtwo by dropping $2. This is another tick for the pay-for-convenience trend though, not pay-to-win.

There is a bit of depth to the Pokemon you capture too, with the IV stats Attack, Defence and HP, it’s entirely possible for a F2P player to clear a raid and get an ideal Mewtwo, while a premium player might fail to get a one with good stats after multiple tries. The odds in that sense are quite clearly stacked in the favour of the premium player though, as they have more tries to get around the bad luck.

Raids and Gym battles

Primarily pay-to-win is brought up in situations where players fight each other. In the battles present in Pokemon Go, the only real advantage you can get by having bought things at all in the game is having more of a certain type of Legendary Pokemon, or one with better stats because you had more tries at the raid to chase an ideal version.

This really doesn’t make a huge difference here – and Pokemon PvP has always been about Type-Matchups and move interactions rather than simply who has the best IV’s on their Mewtwo – PvP would have long since died off if it was just a stat-check fest after all.

With that said, it is a slight advantage there. But only there, in the optional PvP component.

In PvP terms, the main part that almost everyone will likely engage with is the Gym battles. Legendaries cannot be used to defend Gyms, so you’ll never have to start a fight against someone 15th Mewtwo after they blew a load of raid passes to get the perfect statline. You might still get attacked by it while defending – but you never see what’s attacking you in the game anyway, so it’s highly unlikely to ever bother you.

Pokemon Go Gyms featuring Raids and defending Pokemon, used in a discussion about if the game is pay-to-win
Pokemon Go Gyms, featuring both temporary raid bosses and Pokemon defending their gyms.
Credit: PokemonGoLive

And even if it did, defenders are at a huge disadvantage anyway simply because the attacker controls their Pokemon, while the defending Pokemon simply slowly use their moves automatically – meaning virtually any matchup against a competent attacker is a loss, making the “Ideal statline Mewtwo” we’ve been using as our example quite irrelevant.

Is Pokemon Go Pay to win – in Summary

In summary, pay-to-win seems to be mostly if not entirely irrelevant in Pokemon Go, with no real advantages over F2P players. While they may have access to certain things such as specific Pokemon sooner, or Shiny variants before they become easily obtainable for F2P players, none of it will impact another player in any meaningful way, outside of perhaps seeing it in a Gym occasionally.

Even in the edge case of a F2P player fighting someone in a Gym battle who is attacking using a full team of perfect statline legendary Pokemon earned through spamming raids using purchased raid passes, the Gym would likely lose to an attacker using no legendary Pokemon at all due to the mechanics of Gym battles, so it really isn’t a concern.

Pay-for-Convenience however is a fairly common trend and thus those players who have issues avoiding spending money to skip downtime or refill stocks of items in other mobile games may wish to either avoid this game or simply never link their financial details to it.

With my thoughts on if Pokemon Go is pay-to-win now out of the way, If you’d be interested in reading more about Pokemon Go, you can find more Pokemon Go pieces on The Click right here, and more by me personally here.

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