'Pokemon Go' officially launches in Korea

'Pokemon Go' officially launches in Korea
A Pokemon trainer playing the Pokemon Go mobile game in the Singapore Botanic Gardens.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

The hit augmented reality mobile game "Pokemon Go," which took the world by storm last year, was officially released in South Korea on Tuesday.

Available in Korean, "Pokemon Go" can be downloaded on the Google Play store and Apple's App Store.

"Pokemon Go," released in global markets including the US in July 2016, is a GPS-based mobile game that involves users walking to real-life locations to capture virtual monsters, such as the famous character Pikachu, via their smartphones.

It uses augmented reality technology, which overlays (or augments) digital images with a person's view of the real world through a phone's camera.

Users capture Pokemon characters that are found by visiting locations marked on a map.

Despite its worldwide popularity, "Pokemon Go" had not officially launched in Korea earlier, reportedly due to regulatory issues that blocked the game's developer Niantic from accessing key Korean map data needed to run the game here.

Photo: Niantic

US-based Niantic is a spinoff from Google's parent company Alphabet.

The map system used in "Pokemon Go" -- an integral component of playing the game -- was widely speculated to be dependent on data provided by Google Maps.

However, Google has been unable to fully operate its map services here, as the Korean government does not allow companies to take its state-provided maps outside the country without proper security measures.

The Korean Transport Ministry had asked Google to blur out key security locations such as government facilities and military installations.

However, the US internet giant had continually disagreed to such terms, viewing them as unnecessary measures.

As Google has yet to resolve its map issue here, the Korean launch of "Pokemon Go" was perceived as both sudden and unexpected.

Niantic, which held a press conference in Seoul on Monday, did not provide a clear explanation on where and how it obtained the map data needed to run the game in Korea.

Photo: Niantic

"We used publicly accessible (map) data sources to service our game in Korea," Dennis Hwang, visual and interaction design director at Niantic told reporters. "We are unable to provide additional information at this point," he said.

As for why it took so long for Niantic to launch "Pokemon Go" in Korea -- home to one of the largest gaming communities in the world -- Hwang said it took longer than expected for the company to prepare and customise the game for Korean users.

"Niantic is a young startup run by a small team. We had not expected that 'Pokemon Go' would receive such explosive popularity worldwide, and needed time to 'take a breath.'" Hwang said.

"For a team of our size, it took a lot of time for us to prepare and localize the game for the Korean market, including translating the game's contents into Korean and more."

In addition, Niantic and Pokemon Korea, the Korean branch of the Nintendo-owned Pokemon Co., are reviewing plans to work with local corporate partners that could supplement the gameplay of "Pokemon Go."

"We cannot confirm partnerships with local companies as of now, but we're in the process of reviewing such options," Hwang said, citing examples such as designating Starbucks outlets in the US and McDonald's stores in Japan as "gyms" where players can battle virtual characters and as "Pokestops" for picking up game items.

Read also: Pokemon Go unleashed on game-mad South Korea six months late

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