Pokémon Go was just released in the United Kingdom today, July 14, but hardcore fans can immediately avail themselves of a service economy that’s sprouted up around the augmented reality game for mobile. British players can hire a Pokémon taxi to drive them around London to find more virtual creatures, or pay someone to “walk” their phones and incubate virtual eggs collected in the game.
One Pokémon taxi-driver is Bahri Takyuz, 27, who works as an IT manager in east London. He is also an avid Pokémon Go player, and he’s been at it since he installed the game through unofficial channels last weekend. For £25 ($33) an hour, Takyuz will drive up to four passengers around London in his Vauxhall Astra to visit designated Pokéstops (where players can collect the sought-after Pokémon creatures).
“There are a lot of Pokéstops around central London. It’s absolutely rammed,” he says. “People will want to go into central, to the parky kind of areas, where you can find stuff you can’t find in your local area.”
The idea of paying for real-world services to progress in a mobile game isn’t as nutty as it sounds. Pokémon Go makes money—a lot of money—by letting players make in-app purchases. When you hire a Pokétaxi or a walker, you might be getting a better deal than Nintendo offers: If you hire Takyuz with three friends, it works out to £6.25 an hour, for the chance to catch rare Pokémon and load up at Pokéstops. That same amount of cash buys you about 850 Pokécoins from the in-app store, which gets you a handful of premium items to advance in the game.
Takyuz listed his services on Gumtree, a popular UK classifieds site that’s owned by eBay. He was the first Pokémon service provider there, but he’s since been joined by three other drivers and a walker. One walker in London, Narcis Radoi, charges between £1 and £5 for up to 10km of walking, Business Insider reported. (One way to gain Pokémon is to try to hatch them from eggs. They can only be hatched by walking a certain distance in real life, with the game turned on.)
Takyuz has one customer lined up for next week, a seven-year-old who is being gifted Pokémon level-ups by a cousin. He’s eager to get started, but he’s still figuring out the regulatory requirements. “I’m not a taxi driver, I’m just doing this like an opportunity sort of thing,” he says.
Takyuz plans to drive Pokémon hunters in the evenings after work, or in the early morning before traffic gets heavy. He thinks the business will do well because of the stories he’s heard from the US, and the game’s huge popularity in the UK even before its official release.
“I was in Clapton Pond the other night, around 11:30pm. I thought I would catch some Pokémon before I went home. I put a lure down and within five minutes, six people had come on their own,” he says. “There was this big group of us just randomly talking. We weren’t even talking about Pokémon stuff. Just normal stuff.”