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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on July 16)

All News 09:05 July 16, 2016

Pokemon Go fever

Pokemania of the late 1990s has been revived, this time with the augmented-reality (AR) game "Pokemon Go" which rolled out for free downloads on iOS and Android last week. Although it has been introduced in only a few countries, including the United States, the mobile game has become a global sensation. It is already competing with Twitter in terms of daily active users on Android.

Pokemon Go, developed through a partnership between Nintendo and U.S. game studio Niantic, is a mobile game that the world has not seen before. It combines an innovative use of GPS location and augmented reality technology to encourage users to go out and find Pokemon at real-life locations.

The instant success of Pokemon Go has resurrected Nintendo's past fame. The Japanese gaming giant has added more than $7 billion in market value since the July 7 debut of the mobile game app.

The Pokemon Go fever has shocked the local game industry which has been losing global competitiveness and has not been forthcoming about mobile content even though AR technology was introduced here in 2009. The Pokemon Go phenomenon is a good occasion for Korean game developers to rethink their mobile strategies. The AR gaming market is expected to see explosive growth on the back of the Pokemon Go sensation. It is time for the Korean game industry to become more active about developing AR games that can better appeal to the mobile generation.

Several local firms have been getting into the AR market. Hanbitsoft is reportedly working together with YG Entertainment to develop an AR game with an auditioning theme. It remains to be seen whether they can achieve a good level of global popularity.

There is another important lesson for the Korean gaming industry from Pokemon Go, which is the power of globally-recognized characters. The success of Pokemon Go is attributed primarily to the huge popularity of Pokemon, the fantasy monster characters which have been widely used on toys, T-shirts and other merchandise worldwide. Without the popularity of Pokemon characters, the instant success of the smartphone game would not have been possible. The game is a reminder that one of the most important success ingredients in the global content market is a compelling character. Pokemon, first introduced as a video game, has been made into animation and film since 1996 and is hugely popular among people in their 20s to 30s.

This highlights the need for Korea to develop a global character that is recognizable everywhere and appeals to people across generations. Korea has been weak in this area. The few characters that have enjoyed some global popularity include Pororo, a Penguin character whose appeal is limited to pre-school children. This is in contrast to Japan, which has a history of characters that started from cartoons and expanded into games and animation like Doraemon, a cartoon character developed in the 1960s.

When Korea has more recognizable characters, it will help the game industry and other content developers to target the global market.

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