But like most free-to-play games, Pokémon Go has some hugely appealing perks that aren’t easy to come by or very plentiful unless you buy packs of coins, and the temptation to spend can be pretty serious when you’re making slow progress day in and day out. And while you can earn in-game coins, that too is a slow and uncertain process.
Thinking about pumping some cash into Pokémon Go? Before you do, here’s a look at how you can earn coins through gameplay, what kinds of coin packs are available for purchase, and which items are most beneficial if you do end up reaching for your wallet.
As of now, there’s only one way to earn coins in Pokémon Go: by occupying and defending gyms. You’ll find gyms all around the world map—they’re the tall structures with a Pokémon up top, and by this point, each should be dominated by one of the three teams. Once you reach Level 5 in the game, you can pick a team and enter the fray.
If you find a local gym with your team housed within, see if you can add a Pokémon to help defend it. You’ll find the option on the lower left side of the screen if the gym has an open slot to fill, and you can pick your most powerful Pokémon (with the highest CP rating) to help battle back any rivals who try to take the gym.
On the other hand, if you find a gym under the command of an enemy team, you can try to take it back for your crew. You’ll need to defeat all of the Pokémon guarding it—or work together with allies to wear them down—to turn the gym neutral, at which point you can add one of your own Pokémon.
Whatever the case, if you have a Pokémon installed in at least one gym, you can reap the rewards. Hit the Shop and look for the little shield icon on the upper right. Tap that and you’ll collect a Defender bonus of 10 coins and 500 Stardust for each gym you currently control, up to a maximum of 10 gyms. Then the timer will reset, and you’ll have to wait 21 hours to redeem any further rewards.
I’ve held a few gyms in my time, but here in Chicago, most of the gyms around me tend to change hands multiple times an hour—so I’ve never been confident enough to try and find further gyms to hold down before collecting my bonus. Over time, as casual players thin out and hardcore fans wield ultra-powerful Pokémon, perhaps the gyms will stay with one team for longer spans. But really, after playing the game steadily for nearly three weeks now, I think I’ve collected 50 coins via this process. You can’t buy anything with 50 coins.
Pokémon Go’s coins are sold in bundles, and unsurprisingly, you’ll get a better deal the more you’re willing to spend at one time. You can snag 100 coins for $1, 550 coins for $5, 1,200 coins for $10, 2,500 coins for $20, 5,200 coins for $40, or a staggering 14,500 coins for $100.
On the low end, you’re essentially swapping one penny per coin, while the largest bundle trims the price of each coin down to $0.0068. So you’ll save a fair bit of money over time by buying in bulk, rather than making tiny deposits over time, but dropping $40 or $100 in a mobile game is a big ask.
Personally, I’ve spent $13 in the game so far and still have about half of those coins unspent. Initially, I resisted spending larger chunks of money and only dropped $1 here and there to buy a Lure, which let me draw Pokémon near a PokéStop—perfect for when I’m hanging out at a playground with my son. Eventually, however, I bought the $10 pack and have been picking away at the balance here and there.
Why buy coins in Pokémon Go? Well, ideally it’s not to replenish core items that you can get by visiting PokéStops—you’ll get a lot more value by occasionally buying items that boost the amount of experience you earn from playing, or that maximize the time you put into the game. Here’s a look at what’s available in the Shop and whether or not it’s worth your hard-earned coins.
Poké Balls: As mentioned, I live in a busy urban area—so I come from a place of privilege when it comes to PokéStops. They’re everywhere around me, and I can easily hit 10 or so in a 10-minute loop when I want to stock up on items. Given that, I’ve never come close to running out of Poké Balls, as they’re typically granted for visiting PokéStops. In fact, I routinely toss out dozens at a time when I hit my item storage limit.
If you don’t have nearly as many PokéStops nearby, or you’re a spotty aim during capture attempts, you might be tempted to buy packs of Poké Balls, which are available in quantities of 20 (100 coins), 100 (460 coins), and 200 (800 coins). I don’t recommend it, however: Try to find somewhere nearby with a cluster of PokéStops and walk a loop to boost your inventory.
Incense: Incense causes Pokémon to pop up around you, no matter where you are, so they’re handy if you’re stuck in the office or don’t feel like leaving the couch. However, when standing still, Pokémon only appear every five minutes, and more often than not they’re super-common monsters. As such, they’re not the most exciting power-ups.
You’ll get them as freebies every so often, and you should definitely use ‘em if you’ve got ‘em. However, paying 80 coins for one, 500 coins for eight, or 1,250 coins for 25 of them doesn’t feel like a particularly great use of money—especially when Lures seem to offer more bang for your buck.
Lucky Eggs: If you’re a power player, then Lucky Eggs could wind up being your best friend. Each Lucky Egg doubles your earned XP for a span of 30 minutes, and while that’s helpful for capturing Pokémon in the wild and activating PokéStops, it’s even better for mass-evolving the Pokémon in your stable.
Got a stockpile of Pidgeys, Weedles, or any other common monsters? Evolve as many as you can using the specific candy for each Pokémon, and then send the duplicates away to earn even more candy. You’ll earn a bunch of XP at once, and if you have a Lucky Egg active, you’ll double that massive tally. It’s awesome. They’re priced the same as Incense: one for 80 coins, eight for 500 coins, and 25 for 1,250 coins.
Lures: Lures are wonderful because all players benefit from a PokéStop with a Lure on it, so you can mooch off nearby players. But if you’re at a restaurant, park, or anywhere else with a PokéStop and want to play while you’re stationary, a Lure can help you draw a steady flow of monsters to your location. Better yet, areas with overlapping PokéStops can be absolute goldmines for captures when they all have active Lures.
You’ll get Lures at certain points for leveling up, but otherwise, they’re one of the most valuable items worth buying if you’re in the right situation. It’s 100 coins for one or 680 coins for eight—no mega-packs here.
Egg Incubator: If you’ve got eggs resting in incubators, they’ll cook slowly as you accumulate distance by walking with the game open, and then finally hatch and grant you a free Pokémon. Unfortunately, I ran into a problem: I’d played for hours and hours and was at level 16, yet had never received a special 10km egg. My problem? My egg inventory was at capacity and I hadn’t been incubating the common 2km eggs regularly to make room.
Realizing my conundrum, I bought a couple of extra incubators and had five eggs incubating at once for a few days, which let me blast through my reserves and make some space. And lo and behold, I got my first 10km egg. At 150 coins apiece, the incubators are not cheap—but that was a major frustration that wasn’t going to resolve itself quickly, so I’m happy with the decision. You’ll find incubators every so often, but buying an extra (or two) can be handy.
Upgrades: Lastly, Pokémon Go offers a pair of upgrades for 200 coins apiece: The Bag Upgrade lets you store 50 more items (up from a base of 350 items), while the Pokémon Storage Upgrade adds 50 more slots for keeping the monsters (up from 250 to start).
Honestly, there’s little reason why you would need either of these. If you hit the item limit, chances are you have way more potions and Poké Balls than you’ll ever need; I end up pruning my inventory every few days when I hit the cap and dump Revives, weaker Potions, and basic Poké Balls as needed.
As for the Storage Upgrade, you don’t have to hold onto every last Pokémon once you capture it. You should be transferring duplicates to Professor Willow, which helps you gain candy for evolutions, and every captured Pokémon is represented in your Pokédex anyway. If you’re coming close to the storage limit, then it’s time to set a bunch of them loose.