Pokemon Go clone tops Chinese app stores

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Bereft Chinese smartphone users may be finding it difficult to play Pokemon Go, but a local clone, City Spirits Go, is already one of the most downloaded apps in China’s Apple iOS store.

Launched while Pokemon Go was still in Japanese beta, the location-based game allows players to roam their environment and capture ‘spirits’ (jingling in Chinese), which can then be used to fight others in three-versus-three role-playing battles.

However, it’s not an augmented reality game like Nintendo’s Pokemon Go – players are roaming on virtual maps and the spirits don’t appear in the real world. The game was developed by Shenzhen Tanyu Interactive Go and credited to programmer Sun Xiaoyu.

Pokemon Go is not legally available anywhere in Asia yet and is likely to make Chinese authorities nervous due to its use of GPS, location-tracking and the potential for players to stumble into restricted or sensitive areas.

Also China recently clamped down on the mobile games industry, requiring that all games apply for a licence from SAPPRFT before they can be released. It probably also doesn’t help that Pokemon Go is developed by Google offshoot Niantic Labs, as most Google services are banned in China.

Pokemon Go was first released in the US, Australia and New Zealand on July 6, quickly becoming a global craze and boosting Nintendo’s stock market value by over $20bn. Last week it went live in Canada and most of Europe.

Niantic has been forced to slow down the global rollout due to crashing servers caused partly by hackers but mostly by overwhelming demand.

Chinese gamers have been trying everything to play the game, which is not available in Chinese app stores, including downloading it from third-party sites and buying fake IDs so they can access overseas app stores. However, they still need to use a virtual private network (VPN) to play the game, as it requires a Google account to log in.

Even then, they discover there are no monsters to catch in China as the GPS-based game only works when the GPS of the players’ mobile phones is located in unrestricted countries. So they also need a VPN to place them in another part of the world.

As a result, scenes like this, when a rare Vaporeon showed up in Central Park in New York, won’t be happening in China any time soon: