January 24, 2017 / 4:23 PM / 9 months ago

Pokemon Go unleashed on game-mad South Korea six months late

Dennis Hwang (L), art director of Niantic Inc, and Lim Jae Boem, chief executive of Pokemon Korea, pose for photographs during a news conference in Seoul, South Korea, January 24, 2017. Lee Dong-won/News1 via REUTERS

SEOUL (Reuters) - Nintendo Co’s smash hit Pokemon Go was unleashed on South Korea on Tuesday, six months after it was released elsewhere in the world, a delay caused by security fears over Google Maps.

The popularity of augmented-reality Pokemon Go around the world has generated crowds of people in parks and other public places as users search for monsters to train, but with temperatures well below freezing, there was no sudden, noticeable buzz on the streets of Seoul.

“We have waited very long and worked very hard to launch Pokemon Go in South Korea,” said Lim Jae Boem, chief executive of Pokemon Korea.

The game was jointly developed by Nintendo and Niantic Inc.

Pokemon Go relies on Google Maps to work. But in most of South Korea those functions have been limited by the government, which is technically still at war with North Korea, for national security reasons.

Neither Niantic nor Pokemon Korea specified how they managed to work around the Google Maps challenge.

“We used various publicly accessible data sources,” said

Dennis Hwang, art director of Niantic Inc.

There was a slight hitch in the morning when the game was unavailable for download, but that was soon cleared up.

One group of people had their eyes fixed to their smartphones near Seoul’s central Gwanghwamun Square where Pokemons are said to appear often.

“It was sad that it came to Korea a bit late but I’m glad that I can play the fun game translated into Korean,” said Kim Ga-on, 10, who was playing separately with his mother and sister.

“It’s good exercise and it’s fun to catch Pokemons.”

South Korea is the world’s fourth-biggest gaming market after China, the United States and Japan, according to Amsterdam-based research firm Newzoo.

In July, some impatient Pokemon fans rushed to Sokcho, a city close to the border with North Korea - an area where the game can be played as it has not been classified as South Korean territory in Google Maps data.

Nintendo’s stock closed down 1 percent on Tuesday. Hysonic Co Ltd, the company in charge of the game release, rose 30 percent.

Editing by Nick Macfie

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