The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - RJ VOGT rj.vogt@mm­times.com Ad­di­tional re­port­ing by Myo Satt

GET your Poke­balls ready: Poke­mon Go is a go in Myan­mar.

The smart­phone game – for those liv­ing un­der a rock, it’s an in­ter­na­tional phe­nom­e­non that uses your phone’s GPS sig­nal and cam­era to cre­ate an aug­mented re­al­ity – was of­fi­cially re­leased on Au­gust 6 in 15 South­east Asian coun­tries, in­clud­ing Thai­land, Viet­nam and Cam­bo­dia.

The week­end’s re­lease of­fi­cially ex­cluded Myan­mar, but gamers around Yan­gon have dis­cov­ered that the app is ac­tu­ally work­ing in the down­town area. This could be re­lated to Yan­gon’s prox­im­ity to the Thai bor­der (415 kilo­me­tres, or 258 miles). The re­lease in Thai­land, in other words, might be leak­ing into Myan­mar.

Though no­body knows for cer­tain why the game is work­ing in Yan­gon, one thing is clear: The game is work­ing in Yan­gon. Peo­ple’s Park, Sule Pagoda and even The Myan­mar Times of­fice trans­formed over the week­end, from or­di­nary down­town land­marks to Pokestops (places where play­ers col­lect Poke­balls to catch Poke­mon) and hunt­ing grounds. Re­ports from Man­dalay and Taung­gyi con­firm that the game is work­ing in other large ur­ban ar­eas as well.

Gyms, or lo­ca­tions where you can train your Poke­mon, have popped up at St Mary’s Cathe­dral, Myan­mar Plaza and Se­dona Ho­tel. Poke­mon Go ex­pert gamer Aung Kaung Zaw, 22, who has col­lected more than 222 crea­tures in the three days since the app started work­ing in Myan­mar, said he has found the down­town cen­tre to be ripe with crea­tures.

“I live in down­town, so for me the best place has been around Ma­ha­ban­doola Park and in front of City Hall,” he said. “Sh­wedagon Pagoda is good too – there’s a lot of Pokestops near there.”

Of the 222 he’s hauled, he said he has 56 dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties. That’s nearly half of the va­ri­eties in Myan­mar, and Aung Kaung Zaw said he sus­pects that there are only 60 or 70 dif­fer­ent kinds in and around Yan­gon; other var­i­ties, such as wa­ter dwellers or high al­ti­tude crea­tures, prob­a­bly won’t pop­u­late in the ur­ban area.

Though his Pokedeck is im­pres­sive, some gamers have him beat – hav­ing searched longer than ev­ery­one else by us­ing a fake GPS lo­ca­tion be­fore Poke­mon Go ar­rived in Asia. Fool­ing their phones and mark­ing them­selves as be­ing in the US or Aus­tralia, for ex­am­ple, al­lowed them to col­lect Poke­mon from Myan­mar that ac­tu­ally ex­isted over­seas. As the rest of the coun­try catches up, Aung Kaung Zaw said these cheaters will al­ways have an up­per hand be­cause they’ve had a month-long head start. “It’s un­fair for the begin­ners,” he said. Since launch­ing in-coun­try on July 10, the Poke­mon GO Myan­mar Fan Club has gar­nered more than 13,000 likes, most of which have come in the three days since the South­east Asian launch that brought Pidgeys and Squir­tles to Yan­gon.

Other Face­book groups are spawn­ing al­most as rapidly as the crea­tures in ques­tion. Each of the game’s three in­ter­na­tional clans Team Valor, Team In­stinct and Team Mys­tic are rep­re­sented with their own Myan­mar­spe­cific Face­book groups, with hun­dreds of mem­bers in each one sug­gest­ing that the game has at­tracted sev­eral thou­sand play­ers in The Golden Land al­ready. (So far, Team Mys­tic ap­pears to be the big­gest group in town, with 735 mem­bers in its Face­book group.)

How did they get here?

Niantic Inc, the creators of Poke­mon Go, has been slowly open­ing the game glob­ally to pre­serve the ca­pac­ity of its servers, and South­east Asia has been one of the last places on Earth to get a chance at hunt­ing the vir­tu­ally real Poke­mon crea­tures. But in the large Asia re­lease on Au­gust 6, Niantic ex­cluded Myan­mar, In­dia and China (de­spite open­ing the game in the rest of the re­gion).

The cor­po­ra­tion has ad­dressed China be­fore, say­ing that reg­u­la­tions and the game’s reliance on Google Maps are the chal­lenges ob­struct­ing a launch there. But, no­body from the com­pany has of­fi­cially ex­plained the de­ci­sion to by­pass the huge and grow­ing smart­phone gam­ing mar­kets in In­dia and Myan­mar.

Pre­vi­ously, on July 12, the game’s creators had said that Myan­mar would join North and South Korea, Su­dan, China, Cuba and Tai­wan as the only places left out of the global launch. In­ter­net com­men­ta­tors have spec­u­lated that these coun­tries are blocked due to the low pres­ence of Google Maps in those ar­eas, which is vi­tal to game­play.

But that ini­tial state­ment, made on Face­book and re­peated on Twit­ter, does not ap­pear to be set in stone. In South Korea, a small fish­ing vil­lage named Sok­cho ap­pears to have been ac­ti­vated within the game, draw­ing flocks of tourists to the town. And in Tai­wan, Niantic re­versed its de­ci­sion and launched the servers along with the rest of South­east Asia; the re­sult­ing fer­vor led to nearly 350 traf­fic fines in three days.

Myan­mar ap­pears to be no dif­fer­ent, as a visit to Sule Pagoda at­tested yes­ter­day. There, three teenagers wan­dered around the oc­tag­o­nal golden spire, eyes glued to their de­vices as they tried to col­lect more Poke­balls.

Pho­tos: Aung Myin Ye Zaw

Ladies and gen­tle­men – Poke­mon Go has come to The Golden Land. Sorta.

Photo: AFP

Two Myan­mar Poke­mon hunters brave the rain to catch ‘em all. Maybe it won’t be too long be­fore Yan­gon can have Pikachu pa­rades, like Tokyo did on Au­gust 7.

Pro tip: Ma­ha­ban­doola Park is a great spot to find Poke­mon.

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