‘Pokémon Go’ Still a No-Go in China

2018-01-03 13:16:53

A widely cited news report by the Financial Times on Tuesday kindled hopes that “Pokémon Go” would finally make its Chinese mainland debut, in cooperation with domestic tech giant NetEase — but NetEase has said the rumors are untrue.

Based on an interview with John Hanke, chief executive of U.S.-based game developer Niantic, the Financial Times article said the hit smartphone game would be released in China after Niantic forged a partnership with NetEase. When contacted by Sixth Tone on Wednesday, NetEase’s publicity department denied that the company was working with Niantic to bring the game to China.

Without the help of a Chinese distributor, the approval process for an imported game can be difficult under China’s online publishing regulations. Neither Niantic nor the author of the Financial Times article had answered Sixth Tone’s email requests for comment by time of publication.

“Pokémon Go” allows players to catch virtual creatures in real-world locations using Google’s mapping service — which is blocked on the Chinese mainland — and augmented reality (AR) technology. When it was released in July 2016, mainland fans were disappointed to learn that the monster-hunting game wasn’t available to them.

Though the craze surrounding the game has died down in other countries, many Chinese Pokémon lovers are still holding out hope. Guo Ruohan, 30, started an account on microblog platform Weibo called “Is ‘Pokémon Go’ Not Banned Today?” when the game was first released. She still posts frequently, documenting developments in the game’s circuitous progress toward the China market — including short-lived reports that users in certain areas could access the game.

“In the past year, there were often rumors that the ban was lifted,” Guo told Sixth Tone, “but most instances were quickly identified as bugs and fixed.”

Guo, who works as an editor for a gaming industry-focused media outlet, said technical issues do not pose a hurdle to the AR game entering China, noting that internet giant Tencent is currently developing a mobile game based on similar technology. And another game called “City Fairies: GO” — touted as a “Pokémon Go” knock-off — gained widespread popularity upon its release in 2016.

“I think that even though we don’t know which company will become the distributor and bring [‘Pokémon Go’] to China,” said Guo, “there is still hope.”

Editor: Jessica Levine.

(Header image: John Keeble/Getty Images/VCG)