The long wait for mainland Chinese fans of Pokémon GO is officially over. Nintendo’s partner Niantic announced plans today to launch Pokémon GO China this year. In partnership with Chinese software company NetEase, Niantic will bring the popular augmented reality app to a whole new segment of consumers. The partnership is a necessity under Chinese law which requires foreign companies to partner locally to produce online content. No specific launch date was given by either company. But most analysts expect the launch to come sooner rather than later.
Pokémon GO China – Niantic’s Hopes
Niantic Chief Executive John Hanke is eager to bring his games to China. In a comment to the Financial Times, noted that China is the world’s largest mobile games market. The People’s Republic of China has a population of 1.3 billion but is constrained by strict censorship laws. Foreign firms often struggle to make their content appropriate for the mainland. One example of something seemingly harmless in Pokémon GO that is taboo in China is skull imagery. The PRC has strict rules regarding death imagery even if used in a cartoon fashion like Pokémon GO.
One challenge facing Niantic in launching Pokémon GO China is the lack of Ingress’ established network. Ingress is Niantic’s other hugely popular app that laid the groundwork for Pokémon GO. Using Ingress’ basic landmarks for gym locations, for example, made development much quicker. To launch in China Niantic will need to build this out before launch.
Also Niantic has secured another $USD 200 million in funding following a successful investment round. This cash will likely go towards funding Pokémon GO and other game launches in China.
The Pokémon GO Craze in the United States
Pokémon GO was launched in 2016 and became a craze in the United States and elsewhere. Pokémon GO was so successful it left Niantic flush with cash and ready to expand.
For those unfamiliar with Pokemon, Pokémon GO puts players in the shoes of a Pokemon trainer tasked with exploring the world around them. During the course of their journeys players will collect Pokemon, hatch eggs, and earn other bonuses. The game relies upon a mechanic called augmented reality. Think virtual reality except for through a camera lens. Using your smartphone’s built-in camera, Pokémon GO displays the titular creatures in the surrounding environment.
Using Pokeballs, players attempt to capture the 3D creatures floating in front of them. After doing so, they can level up their Pokemon and prepare them for combat in arenas. Pokémon GO’s arenas are the game’s pvp aspect. Here players pit their captured pokémon against each other. Typically the creature with the higher stats wins but sometimes miracles happen. While not pure pvp it is the closest thing the app has at the moment.
Pokémon GO initially started out very strong but user numbers quickly dropped in the ensuing months. In spite of this, a dedicated core user base has kept the game profitable for Niantic.
Pokémon GO and Nintendo’s Mobile Gaming Efforts
Pokémon GO also represents one of parent company Nintendo’s first forays into mobile gaming. Reticent to enter the fray, Nintendo’s offerings have received measured praise and are among the most popular apps downloaded. Still many longtime players were concerned about the translation of pokémon to the real world. Some game mechanics were changed for the port while maintaining the overall spirit of the original portable editions.
Born on handhelds, it is quite fitting that Pokémon GO went on to become the phenomenon it is. In many ways it has opened the floodgates for commercial tie-ins with augmented reality apps.
Niantic’s next big game, also sure to set the world afire, is a Pokémon GO-style game in the Harry Potter universe.
Additionally Hanke described Pokémon GO’s future to Forbes as “going to Mars.” Player wishlist requests include more Pokemon and real pvp.