Pokémon Go Arrives in South Korea

The virtual reality game Pokémon Go, first released to the world in July 2016, launched its official service in South Korea on January 24.

The game, jointly developed by Nintendo and Niantic Labs, challenges its users to walk the real world, discovering virtual monsters and training them to battle each other at specific venues.

Since its international release, an estimated 500 million people have downloaded the application.

The delay in Pokémon Go’s South Korean release was due to the application’s use of Google Maps, as the South Korean government limits many functions of Google Maps for national security reasons.

At the press conference for the release, the developers did not explain in detail how they managed to work around the issue. Some reports suggested that they used publicly available data to fill gaps in inaccessible areas.

"We used various publicly accessible data sources," said Dennis Hwang, Art Director of Niantic Inc.

When the game was first made available in the rest of the world, Pokémon fans in South Korea rushed to Sokcho, a city on the eastern coastline. While Niantic designated most of South Korea as a restricted area for its map services, it left out a small portion of the eastern coastline, including Sokcho. As a result, Sokcho became the only area in South Korea where people could experience Pokémon Go.

According to Amsterdam-based research firm Newzoo, South Korea is the world's fourth largest gaming market after China, the United States, and Japan. “South Korea is one of the world's most lucrative mobile games markets, so [sic] should be a big boost for the game,” said gaming analyst Jack Kent.

However, the game’s international popularity has declined rapidly. According to application analytics firm AppAnnie, the number of downloads in the United States fell by more than 80 million from July to November 2016.