POKEMON GO WORKS IN MYANMAR
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.
Ladies and gentlemen – Pokemon Go has come to The Golden Land. Sorta.
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.