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Pokemon Go

The Hong Kong gamers desperate to start playing Nintendo’s Pokemon Go

For superfans who grew up trading Pokemon cards and playing video game on consoles, not being able to download the app or get it to work properly while they await official release in region is frustrating

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 July, 2016, 2:41pm
UPDATED : Friday, 15 July, 2016, 10:01am

For Ian Cheng Hung-hay, whose childhood fantasy was to be a Pokemon trainer, Pokemon Go was a dream come true. But his dream did not last long – access in Hong Kong to the newly released smartphone version of the video game was blocked on Monday.

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As Pokemon Go takes the United States, New Zealand and Australia by storm – it already has more users in those countries than the dating app Tinder – Hong Kong gamers can only look on in dismay after Google offshoot Niantic, co-developer of the game with Japan’s Nintendo, shut down their access to the host servers.

The augmented reality mobile game, in which players catch virtual creatures, called Pokemons, in real-life environments and battle other users, has not officially launched in Hong Kong and is therefore not available on the Google Play store or iTunes app store. However, excited fans were initially able to get round this by downloading the app directly from links online; Apple users sidestepped the restriction by applying for Australia or New Zealand Apple IDs.

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Niantic had not expected such a large number of users to download the app using third-party links online, and the volume of downloads overloaded its servers. The company says it is optimising its servers and urges people not to download the app from third-party websites. It has put the international release of Pokemon Go on hold.

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Hong Kong gamers who initially managed to begin playing the game complained they could not catch any Pokemons. Cheng was one of those who managed to get access to the game but has since been shut out. He can’t wait for access to be restored.

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“It’s the excitement of having the chance to really ‘catch a Pokemon’ and collect them to fill up the Pokedex,” says the 24-year-old, referring to the vault where players store the virtual creatures they’ve caught.

Cheng grew up with Pokemon, collecting and trading Pokemon cards as a child, and has played nearly every version of the video game on various game consoles and controllers, from Gameboy Colour and Gameboy Advance to Nintendo DS.

For Cheng’s generation, Pokemon was such a big part of their childhood that Nintendo’s decision in February to change the official Chinese name of Pokemon caused uproar. The company said it made the change to have a single Chinese translation of the name, but the move upset Hong Kong Pokemon fans, dozens of whom gathered outside the Japanese consulate in Hong Kong to protest.

Pokemon, which started out as an animated television series in the late 1990s, is one of Nintendo’s best-selling franchises. Though Nintendo’s performance in recent years has been lacklustre, it has made a huge comeback with Pokemon Go. The success of the game sent its share price soaring, raising the company’s value by US$7.5 billion in two days.

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According to the official Pokemon Go Facebook page, the game will be rolled out gradually to every market in the world except China, Taiwan, Cuba, Iran, Myanmar and Sudan. The game’s developers don’t say why those markets won’t be getting the game, but in China a knock-off version, City Spirit Go, has already become the most downloaded app in a matter of days.