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

Pokemon Go players crowding in front of Block 401, Hougang Avenue 10, in August last year. South Korea may soon see scenes like this, with the game launching in the country on Tuesday, Jan 24, 2017.
Pokemon Go players crowding in front of Block 401, Hougang Avenue 10, in August last year. South Korea may soon see scenes like this, with the game launching in the country on Tuesday, Jan 24, 2017.PHOTO: ST FILE

SEOUL (REUTERS) - Nintendo Co's smash hit Pokemon Go was unleashed on South Korea on Tuesday (Jan 24), six months after it was released elsewhere in the world, a delay caused by security fears over Google Maps.

The popularity of augmented-reality Pokemon Go around the world has generated crowds of people in parks and other public places as users search for monsters to train, but with temperatures well below freezing, there was no sudden, noticeable buzz on the streets of Seoul.

"We have waited very long and worked very hard to launch Pokemon Go in South Korea," said Mr Lim Jae Boem, chief executive of Pokemon Korea.

The game was jointly developed by Nintendo and Niantic.

Pokemon Go relies on Google Maps to work. But in most of South Korea, those functions have been limited by the government, which is technically still at war with North Korea, for national security reasons.

Neither Niantic nor Pokemon Korea specified how they managed to work around the Google Maps challenge.

"We used various publicly accessible data sources," said Mr Dennis Hwang, art director of Niantic.

There was a slight hitch in the morning when the game was unavailable for download, but that was soon cleared up.

"Pokemon Go officially launched its service in South Korea today. The popularity has died down but I'm going to do it." said an enthusiastic Shin Seung Woo on Facebook.

South Korea is the world's fourth-biggest gaming market after China, the United States and Japan, according to Amsterdam-based research firm Newzoo.

In July, some impatient Pokemon fans rushed to Sokcho, a city close to the border with North Korea - an area where the game can be played as it has not been classified as South Korean territory in Google Maps data.