Singapore fans try various ways to get hold of Pokemon Go

Tips on how to install app found on online forums, Facebook prior to its launch here

Nintendo Co.'s Pokemon Go is displayed on a smartphone. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Local Pokemon fans are trying different ways to get Pokemon Go to work here ahead of the app's official launch in Singapore, even as privacy and safety concerns are being raised in countries where the game is already out.

Facebook pages and online forums are abuzz with tips and tricks on how to install and run the app, as it is still unavailable for download in Singapore through the official app stores of Apple and Android phones.

The mobile app, which allows players to "catch" virtual creatures from the popular Pokemon franchise, was released in Australia, New Zealand and the United States last Wednesday, and has since topped the download charts for Android and iOS.

The game is not yet available in Singapore, but its developer Niantic said on Monday that it will roll out in Asia "in a few days" after ensuring the servers will be stable enough for a smooth launch.

However, some lucky fans were able to play the game briefly last week when the game was first released as Niantic had yet to lock server access in the region.

Android users can still download the installation files unofficially from third-party websites and install the game on their phones, although cybersecurity experts warn that doing so from unauthorised websites runs the risk of exposing them to malware.

Pokemon fan Kee Wan Ting, 19, downloaded the app during its launch by logging into the New Zealand iOS app store with a friend's account, as she was excited to try the game. "I've been a fan since young, so I'll play any new Pokemon game when it's out. There was also lots of hype and excitement from my friends in the US who were showing me screenshots of the Pokemon they had caught," said the engineering student from Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

It was short-lived, however, as Nianticbegan locking access to the servers for players here, which meant that Pokemon simply did not show up.

But some die-hard players got around the region lock by installing apps on their phones that spoofed their GPS (global positioning system) coordinates so that they appeared to be from the US.

The appeal of Pokemon Go lies in how it gives players a sense of being a real Pokemon trainer going around the world capturing their Pokemon buddies. Players have to physically visit locations, as tracked by their phone's GPS, to capture Pokemon. They can also use their phone's cameras to see the Pokemon superimposed on the physical area in front of them.

Certain landmarks or famous public locations may be designated as Pokestops or gyms, which give players additional rewards.

Lab technician Darsh Chong, 25, said: "It's the closest thing we currently have that simulates a Pokemon journey like what we see in the TV series."

The first Pokemon games, Pokemon Blue and Red, were released in Japan in 1996, and have since spawned a lucrative franchise with cartoons, trading cards, merchandise and even themed cafes. Pokemon Go is the first official Pokemon game on the smartphone platform.

The app's growing popularity comes amid reports of privacy and safety concerns in countries where the game has been available for the past week.

A man in Boston woke up to players outside his home with their phones pointed at it, as he lived in a repurposed church which had been tagged as a gym by the game.

There were also reports of robbers in the US waiting by Pokestops in secluded locations for unsuspecting players.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 14, 2016, with the headline Singapore fans try various ways to get hold of Pokemon Go. Subscribe