How much does it cost to develop an app like Pokémon GO

In summer 2016 Pokémon GO mobile game was uniting people of all ages just like Olympic Games in Rio. An app for finding cute pocket monsters from our childhood has become insanely popular in no time: in 24 hours after launch it was on the top app list on App Store and Google Play. Today we will talk about the main features of this game and how much does it cost to make a game like Pokemon GO.

What is Pokémon GO

Pokémon GO is an application connecting in-game objects with the real world objects in a way that the former are only available in certain physical locations, for example in the park or near the river. Apart from it, newest Pokemon game processes an image captured by the smartphone camera and overlays it with additional elements to create a so called augmented reality.

On the less powerful devices augmented reality mode is not available and users simply see a 3D game universe which is nonetheless connected with locations from the real world:

Starting playing Pokemon GO

Pokemon GO rules are simple:

  1. You launch an app, register and can use it when you device’s screen is on.
  2. The main form of interaction is collecting Pokemon by throwing Poké Balls at them (usually you can’t catch them on the first try).
  3. Since they aren’t staying in one place and spawn in various locations, users have to actively move around the area or even the whole city to catch Pokemon.
  4. Players also need to renew their Poké Ball supplies on Poké Stops and can fight other Pokemon trainers in locations called gyms.
  5. The distance you have walked and the number of Pokemon caught influence your level in the game.

Bulbasaur in Pokemon GO

And now let’s discuss how to make a Pokemon game.

Pokémon GO like app development

Before we start, let’s think about essentials you need to create a Pokemon game:

  1. Game design
  2. Game engine
  3. App prototype
  4. Map service and geolocation tools
  5. Logic for distributing objects on the map and game balance
  6. Means to interact with device sensors
  7. Server for implementing interaction between users and storing their game data
  8. Event notifications
  9. In-game purchases
  10. Game graphics and sounds

You should also take into account the following factors that contributed to Pokemon GO success:

  • Famous Pokemon brand that already had a number of fans with Pokemon apps being only one source of its popularity.
  • Experience with augmented reality games development (Ingress). To make a game like Pokemon you need a lot of resources since data gathered by Ingress belongs to Niantic.
  • Perfect timing for launch — summer in Northern Hemisphere when most people spend a fair amount of time outside.
  • The game requires a lot of undivided attention which makes it a habit-forming product. You need to take it into account if you want to create Pokemon GO like app.
  • A great potential for viral growth: if you see a Pokemon, you’ve got to catch it right there and since people see others playing, they want to try it themselves.

And now let’s see what it takes to build Android or iPhone games like Pokemon GO

1. Game design

Before starting working on Pokemon like apps for Android or iOS, you need a concept and a design document (specifications). Game designer is usually the one who prepares them and further facilitates all development stages and gives the right tasks to developers, designers, illustrators, sound people, etc. Effective game design is crucial for your project, so it costs accordingly.

2. Game engine

What is a game engine and why do you need it? Game engine is a special software for bringing together all the resources used in the game (code, graphics, sounds) and managing them. Only very simple games can do without a game engine (and games similar to Pokemon GO don’t belong to this category). Plus, game engine makes game creation for Android and iOS or any other mobile platforms much easier. For example, Pokemon GO developers used Unity game engine.

Unity game engine

3. App prototype

App prototype of the Pokemon GO alternative shows how your app will look like and includes all of the screens used in it. Prototype is not yet an app, it only shows what functions, menus and other elements will be available to users when the app similar to Pokemon GO is ready. Prototyping is done with the help of special tools, such as InVision, Proto.io, Pixate or Flinto.

App prototyping

4. Map service and geolocation tools

Since prior to becoming a separate company Niantic was an inner Google startup, it is probably using Google Maps and location data under some special terms and conditions which are not available to anyone else. That’s why creating a Pokemon clone is not an easy task. In general, to create apps like Pokemon GO you will need to do the following:

  1. Connect Google API to your project, pay for a license (price depends on the data volume and number of requests per day). You can also use Open Street Maps which are free but they do not provide location photos.
  2. Write functions for working with GPS on devices (geolocation). You need them for identifying device location and showing the right objects to users.

Pokestops in Pokemon GO

5. Logic for distributing objects on the map and game balance

How to create an app like Pokemon GO that will become popular? You’ve got to aim for a natural feel. And to achieve it you need the objects to be distributed on the map in an organic and naturally looking way. You’ve got to identify:

  • how often new Pokemon will appear on the map
  • which locations are more attractive for a certain Pokemon type and how their number changes in various hours of the day
  • how the popularity of a certain location influences the type and number of Pokemon one can expect to meet there

Game balance is essential for a successful Pokemon GO alternative. If the game is well-balanced, newcomers don’t feel like it is too complicated to play while experienced players get enough challenges for it to stay fun and playable. After game balance is implemented, it is tested and adjusted accordingly.

How to catch a Pokemon

6. Means to interact with device sensors

In order to determine device position in space and the speed at which the person is moving (to know whether he or she is using a car or going on foot while using Pokemon like app) you need data from the sensors built into the smartphone:

  • Gyroscope determines device orientation in space.
  • Accelerometer identifies acceleration speed of a smartphone.
  • GPS identifies user’s position according to the global positioning network.

When developing UARoads app for monitoring road quality we have closely worked with data captured by these sensors and can use our experience in Pokemon like apps development.

Receiving data from device sensors

7. Server for implementing interaction between users and storing their game data

Since players belong to same game world, are using the same map and have to follow the same basic rules, this world needs to be generated somewhere, constantly evolve and interact with them. All this happen on the server which all the copies of the app similar to Pokemon GO installed on players’ devices use to interact with each other.

The server is also necessary for users to be able to transfer their game data to a new device in case they have bought a new one. Without a server for storing game data you won’t be able to create a strong and reliable game backend for iOS and Android game like Pokemon, so it’s an essential part of the overall game development.

You should also take into account that servers and databases should be ready for high loads so that players won’t be forced to wait:

Pokemon GO server overload

8. Event notifications

Realtime events allow users to be instantly notified about what is happening within the game. Since Pokemon GO is played with a screen turned on, users see notifications and tips like these at once:

Pokemon GO notifications

Realtime events are implemented with Socket connection that allows you to exchange data with the player instantly and in a duplex mode when he or she is online. When the user is offline, server can send push-notification via third-party services which players receive with a small delay.

9. In-game purchases

There’re several monetization models for mobile startups out there and Pokemon GO is using a model with in-app purchases. Players can buy objects like Poké Balls, Lure Modules, Egg Incubators, etc. There are both cheaper (20 Poké Balls for 100 coins) and more expensive listings (6 lures for 680 coins). It is an important aspect since it helps beginners to painlessly make their first in-app purchase and encourages experienced players to buy items in bulks to save coins.

It is better to implement purchases for each platform via its native service since those services look more trustworthy to users. For example, if you’re developing an Android app, the obvious choice would be Google Play In-app Billing. By using this service you will be able to painlessly fill the app with purchasable items from the developer console without updating the app too often.

Pokemon GO shop

10. Game graphics and sounds

Players expect modern games to look seamlessly in terms of graphics. Since Pokemon GO uses 3D models of Pokemon, a significant part of game’s cost will be spent on their creation. It would also be better if 3D modelling is done alongside the Pokemon GO development process so that all parts of the app will be brought together in a timely manner. Of course, there’s Unity Asset Store where you can buy pre-made models but they won’t help you to create something unique like Pokemon GO.

Pokemon GO game models

As for sounds, Audio Jungle, Music Loops or The Music Case offer some options if you’re on a budget.

Pokémon GO like app development costs

Now when you are familiar with the game development process, let’s take a look at Pokemon GO like video game pricing:

  • Client application and game design — $60-100K
  • UI/UX — $6,5K
  • Back End — $80K
  • Server expenses — $150K
  • QA and testing — $50K
  • Game models with animation — $100K
  • Sounds — $15-20K
  • Management — $20K

So total Pokemon GO like app development cost is about $450-600K. Of course, it’s an approximate cost and actual mobile app development costs will differ based on the required features.

Need MVP development, iOS and Android apps or prototyping? Check out our portfolio and make an order today!

About author

Android Developer
Sasha is a team lead of our mobile development team. He conducts regular meetings for analyzing code and summarizing lessons learned that help to keep high motivation and set clear personal development goals for each of the team members.

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