Have you caught 'em all? Pokemon GO has been popular among mobile gamers around the world for months - but not in China. The most innovative part of Niantic's location-based augmented-reality game happens to be the reason for its delay in the country.
Participants take part in the world's first 'Pokemon GO' competition in Hong Kong, China, August 6, 2016. /CFP Photo
China's mobile gaming supervisor said on Tuesday that it won't allow the game to enter the market for now, as its play-style "may pose a potential social risk." The State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television said the move was due to its "high level of responsibility to national security and the safety of people's lives and property.”
Pokemon GO is played by uploading your location to find and catch nearby Pokemon, a kind of virtual fantasy pet, then raising them to have friendly fights with other players.
A Pokemon catch displayed on a phone, as photoed in August, 2016 in US. /CFP Photo
The decision does not specifically target Pokemon GO. The administration said it will temporarily block all games of this genre, even those developed by domestic companies.
Immaturity and Insecurity
Despite its huge popularity, Pokemon GO has not provided a consistent gaming experience since its launch in July, 2016. On July 30 (less than four weeks after the initial release), Niantic removed a key feature of the game: "footprints" of nearby Pokemon. This move left some players muddled as they had depended on this feature to make a catch. The company also struggled for weeks to ban third-party Pokemon trackers, which put pressure on the game's server that Niantic couldn't handle.
The game also introduced privacy trouble to some. Boon Sheridan last year moved to a church that Pokemon GO marked as a "gym" for players around to visit. He even tweeted about meeting the virtual "owner" of the gym.
Boon Sheridan's tweet, as seen on Thursday. /Twitter Screenshot
"Are you training?"
"Heck yeah, this is *my* gym!"
"Cool, this is *my* house! We should be friends."
— conversation between Sheridan and the gym owner in July, 2016, as tweeted by Sheridan.
Another controversy around the game is security. Some players were so immersed in the game that they forgot to observe their surroundings, which led to some fatal accidents. One of them happened in Pokemon homeland Japan. As reported by The Japan Times, a truck driver in the country's central Aichi Prefecture struck a nine-year-old schoolboy in October 2016 with his vehicle. He told police that he was playing Pokemon GO instead of watching the road. The boy died as a result of the accident.
Pokemon GO players seen in a Tokyo park on August 9, 2016. /CFP Photo
Finding the way around, from both ends
China's mobile gaming supervisor said the game can be launched if an effective way to avoid security issues is found.
Niantic has been making efforts to safeguard its players, including showing a irremovable security warning at login to help players check their surroundings.
Some advanced gamers in China managed to play the game within the country by faking their phone's position, which could lead to a lifetime ban by Niantic, according to the game's end-user agreement.