South Koreans flock to remote northern area to play Pokémon Go
Fans of hit smartphone game trek to only Pokmon Go holy land on peninsula following restrictions on Google Maps, leaving behind jobs and families
South Korean Pokmon Go players have been forced to leave their home towns and flock to a remote city close to the North Korean border in order to play because of the countrys mapping restrictions.
As a location-based game augmented reality game, Pokmon Go relies on data from Google Maps to function, but South Korean security restrictions on mapping data have blocked Google from providing map features across a significant proportion of the country, including realtime information, 3D maps, personal transport directions and indoor maps.
Due to government restrictions on maps data, its impossible for Pokmon Go to work properly using Google Maps service in South Korea, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters.
Local map providers use government-issued maps that have sensitive areas excluded, but a law that prevents export of government-supplied mapping data stops Google from using it, despite having been seeking a license for the data since 2008. Google recently publicly challenged the law.
However, a city close to the border with North Korea, called Sokcho, has not been classified as a South Korean territory and therefore has the mapping data required to make Pokmon Go function.
One user posted on an internet message board: I didnt go to some big tourist attraction; all I did was walk around for tens of kilometres to play a game. But Im more satisfied with this than any other trip. I would still be in Sokcho had it not been for an urgent issue.
Bus tickets from the capital, Seoul, to the city have sold out, according to reports.
Sokcho, which sits on the eastern coast adjacent to the Seoraksan National Park, has been quick to capitalise on its unusual status, sharing maps of free Wi-Fi areas and advertising itself on social media as the only Pokmon Go holy land on the peninsula.
South Korea is the worlds fourth-biggest gaming market after China, the US and Japan, according to research firm Newzoo, potentially representing a big opportunity loss for Niantic and the Pokmon Company.
The smash-hit game has yet to be officially launched outside of Australia, New Zealand and the US, with Niantic struggling to meet the server demands of existing players, but plays across the world have resorted to circumventing the region lock by sideloading the app on Android or downloading it with a US iTunes account on an iPhone.
It has been downloaded between 10m and 50m times from the Google Play Store alone, while the app has been downloaded from a third-party Android app hosting service over 5m times.