Developer hints at imminent Pokemon Go release in Korea

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Developer hints at imminent Pokemon Go release in Korea

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Dennis Hwang

After much delay, there are signs that Pokemon Go might finally be coming to Korea.

Dennis Hwang, director of visual and interaction design at game developer Niantic, confirmed Tuesday that the company is working toward launching its wildly popular augmented reality game in Korea, adding that the country’s limited Google Maps functionality was not a major obstacle for the release.

Hwang, one of Niantic’s earliest members and the company’s design director since its launch as an internal start-up at Google, revealed the news at the Next Content Conference in southern Seoul on Tuesday.

Pokemon Go is an augmented reality smartphone game where users can catch and collect 3-D monsters that appear randomly in the real world as projected by a phone’s camera. It was unveiled in July and immediately sparked a Pokemon Go craze around the world.

Korea, though, was not part of the initial list of countries to have the game, though certain areas in Gangwon, including Yangyang County, Inje County and the city of Sokcho, had some service thanks to an unidentified glitch.

Hwang and other company spokesmen were cautious about giving an exact date of release or other details. “Although we do not have an exact date, what I can say is that the company definitely acknowledges Korea as an important market and is making efforts to realize its launch here,” Hwang said.

Many industry insiders and media outlets have speculated that the delay of Pokemon Go’s release in Korea was due to the fact that Google Maps, on which the game relies for navigation in other countries, has limited functionality in Korea. The government restricts giving detailed map data to foreign companies, one of which is Google.

Hwang, though, said at a press conference Monday that Niantic and Google have been independent companies since October 2015, when the game developer was spun off from the tech giant. This suggests the Google Maps issue may not be wholly responsible for Pokemon Go’s delayed release in Korea.

Adding to hopes that the game might be coming to Korea soon, Niantic launched a Korean map for its previous augmented reality game, Ingress, last Saturday. Before then, Ingress, which also uses real-world map data, was available for download on Korean app stores, but the game displayed a blank screen instead of a map. The fact that Ingress now has navigational functionality in Korea raised speculation that Pokemon Go might be next on the list for release.

When asked if the company was worried that the Korean release would come as the popularity of Pokemon Go has subsided from its peak four months ago, Hwang said the game still has many new characters and functions to offer. He brushed off views that the game was merely a short-term fad.

“Last month, for example, we launched a special Halloween event during which ghost-type Pokemon appeared more frequently, and we gave out bonus candies as items,” he said. “This led to a rise in the number of users by almost 30 percent, close to the early number of users in the summer.”


BY SONG KYOUNG-SON [song.kyoungson@joongang.co.kr]

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