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Pokemon pandemonium

Pokemon Go has become a worldwide phenomenon in a matter of days.

Pokemon Go has become a worldwide phenomenon in a matter of days.

The Pokémon Company International and Niantic, Inc.

Millions have downloaded Pokemon Go, a new augmented-reality game that has them wandering the streets looking for virtual monsters, Karen K. Ho reports. And as the game soared to the top of download charts, it has also propelled game maker Nintendo on a wild two-day stock spike, adding $7.5-billion to its market value

Pikachu and his friends are back, they're inside your phone and everyone is scrambling to get them.

Last week, the Pokemon Company released Pokemon Go, its latest instalment in the 20-year-old franchise first introduced on Nintendo Co. Ltd.'s Game Boy portable video game console.

Whether you play games such as Pokemon Go or not, its immense popularity will have an impact on your life. The game's millions of downloads in less than a week have already presented multiple ethical and safety questions for users, game designers, businesses and even homeowners.

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Related: Your guide to the Pokemon Go craze

With Pokemon Go, an augmented reality game available for download on Android devices and iPhones, users see an animé-like version of Google Maps that hides street and area names and replaces real-life landmarks with Pokemon-specific buildings.

As users navigate the real world, their in-game character mirrors their movements and will try to collect characters through chance encounters at places designated as Pokestops and will battle other users at Pokegyms.

There were three Pokestops all within a small area, making Toronto’s Princess park an ideal place for players to sit and catch pokemon.

There were three Pokestops all within a small area, making Toronto’s Princess park an ideal place for players to sit and catch pokemon.

Michael Rajzman/The Globe and Mail

Parks and other major landmarks are seeing a sudden influx of users congregating to collect rarer Pokemon characters or visit multiple Pokestops. Many are actively talking on social media platforms about walking longer distances to increase their chances of encountering more Pokemon. Informal events are being organized to compare notes and collections.

However, not everyone playing will have the same experiences, especially when it comes to perceptions by non-users, such as the police.

Richard Lachman, director of Ryerson University's Transmedia Research Centre, pointed out that a dark-skinned person playing the game late at night in a neighbourhood with a high crime rate will probably be treated very differently than a white person hunting for a Clefairy Pokemon in an affluent park.

"There have been experiences of people playing pervasive games [such as Pokemon Go] that have led to riot cops," he said.

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The demand for Pokemon Go, developed by Niantic Inc. and officially released in the United States, Australia and New Zealand, quickly overwhelmed servers, resulting in outages, limited sign-ups and glitches in service. Interest in the new game also poured in from other countries, which quickly led to online tutorials on how to get around the location restrictions.

While the initial data for Pokemon Go is significant compared with other popular mobile applications, Prof. Lachman said it's tough to predict whether the game's popularity will be sustainable.

On Monday, Nintendo's stock surged 24.5 per cent on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. According to Reuters, this increased the market cap of the company by $7.5-billion (U.S.) in two days.

Watch Pokemon Go a huge success for Nintendo, augmented reality industry

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But Prof. Lachman said it's unclear whether there will be any impact in the long-term earnings of Nintendo, which has a joint investment in the Pokemon Company along with Game Freak Inc. and Creatures Inc.

While some U.S. businesses are already encouraging new customers to visit by mentioning Pokemon, Prof. Lachman noted that this type of strategy already happened with Foursquare, which saw its popularity fizzle among loyal users within a few years of its peak.

What Pokemon Go does have going for it is a brand with millions of fans around the world, many of whom are in the key 18-to-35-year-old demographic and own smartphones.

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The massive popularity of the first two Pokemon video games released in 1996 led to dozens of software titles on multiple console platforms, a trading card game, an animated television series, 18 movies, as well as thousands of licensed products.

The Pokemon Company estimates that it has sold more than 280 million units of its video games, aired its television shows in more than 95 countries or regions and its total worldwide market size is over ¥4.8-trillion ($61.3-billion Canadian) as of May of this year.

Revenue is generated when users purchase upgrades and other items through Pokecoins, which cost anywhere from 99 cents to $99 (U.S.).

A data report published by Torontonian Joseph Schwartz, an online data analyst at SimilarWeb.com, noted that the game has been installed on 5.16 per cent of all Android devices in the United States – well above the installation rates for the popular dating app Tinder.

The number of Daily Active Users, a key metric for engagement and usage of mobile apps, put Pokemon Go very close to Twitter, the social media and micro-blogging service that was established 10 years ago.

When it comes to users in countries outside the United States trying to access the game through alternative means, Mr. Schwartz's data show that Canada doesn't even crack the top 10.

Prof. Lachman, an associate professor of radio and television arts who specializes in augmented reality, real-world games and ethics, said Pokemon Go uses many aspects of games that have existed in other online apps such as Seek 'n Spell and in offline formats such as geocaching.

"The technology has been around. This is just the first time it's crossed over into the mainstream," he said, noting the popularity of fitness apps such as Runkeeper, which already use location tracking and allow users to easily compare accomplishments. "The idea of travelling somewhere through a challenge and being rewarded with something is definitely not new."


Your guide to the Pokemon Go craze

What is Pokemon Go?

Pokemon Go is the latest title of the Pokemon franchise, the popular video-game series that made its debut in 1996 on Nintendo Co. Ltd.'s Game Boy hand-held console. It eventually led to an animated television show, a trading card game, more than a dozen animated movies and an enormous amount of merchandise. Pokemon Go is an augmented-reality game you play on your smartphone by seeking Pokemon to train and battle with each other. The app allows users to wander their neighbourhood in search of characters that pop up on their phone. It was released on July 6.

Why is everyone talking about it?

Pokemon Go has become very popular and heavily discussed worldwide over the past few days in multiple countries despite being officially released only in the United States, Australia and New Zealand. Since the story's debut 20 years ago, many of the franchise's fans now have smartphones and fall into the key 18-to-35-year-old demographic. Many game users have also been uploading photos or stories about Pokemon Go at various locations on social media, including large congregations at parks, usually late at night, and even on the front lines of war zones. Nostalgia for the franchise is enough to persuade some Canadians to download Android application packages (APKs) that enable users to install the mobile game on Android devices well before the official launch. It also has hundreds of distinct, memorable characters that many fans still remember.

How does it work?

After downloading the app and creating a character, users see an animé-like version of Google Maps that hides street and area names and replaces real-life landmarks with Pokemon-specific buildings. As users navigate the real world, their in-game character mirrors their movements and will randomly encounter Pokemon characters that, with luck, they will be able to capture and add to their team. The game is free, but users can buy items in the app instead of through real-life experiences.

Why did Nintendo's stock spike after the game was released?

Nintendo is one of the three companies with a joint investment in the Pokemon Co. along with Game Freak Inc. and Creatures Inc. It's the Pokemon Co. that is directly responsible for licensing and marketing the franchise. However, many Pokemon games are commonly associated with Nintendo consoles, such as the Game Boy and the Nintendo 64. If there is long-term interest and revenue generated from in-app purchases in Pokemon Go, Nintendo would financially benefit. Nintendo has also reported declining sales for the past five years and saw sales of its Wii U console fall well below expectations. But millions of people have downloaded the Pokemon Go app, and, as of May, 2016, the franchise has already sold more than 280 million units of its various video games.

What are the problems so far?

In the rush to get the game before its wider release, some users have inadvertently downloaded malware, such as hijacking software, onto their phones. The development company behind the game, Niantic Inc., allows users to sign up only through a Pokemon.com or Google account. Using the latter gives Niantic access to your entire Google account, meaning that it can read all of your e-mail, send e-mail as you, access or delete files in your Google Drive account and see your search and Google Maps history. The game has also caught the attention of police forces across the United States, which has seen a rise in reports of trespassing and suspicious activity in some areas. Deputies in Goochland, Va., say they have found people on business, church and government properties late at night when the grounds are closed. A late-night hunt for Pokemon in Missouri led some players into a trap set up by armed robbers, and authorities in central Wyoming are investigating after a woman playing the game found a man's body in a river.

Is it a fad?

Pokemon Go combines many concepts already popular across various communities. Bug collecting or species identification, gamification of fitness, distance-tracking applications and, most important, in-app micropayments. It's too early to say how popular or long this game will be around, but two other popular mobile games, Angry Birds and Candy Crush, continue to generate sales and revenue years after their debuts through new updates and additional levels.

With reports from the Associated Press, Reuters and Bloomberg News

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