Japan Is Getting Its Pokemon Go – With a Side of Fries

News & Views Technology - July 20th, 2016

All right, aspiring Pokemon trainers, Japan is about to get plugged in to this summer’s killer app, and you’ll be able to get some Mickey D’s to go with your Pokemon training sessions too.

If you haven’t been connected to the internet over the past couple of weeks, you might have missed out on stories about the app’s popularity, particularly in the US, where the appearance of particularly rare Pokemon have drawn thousands of people to locations in Chicago or New York – sometimes in the middle of the night. People hunting around for Pokemon have stumbled upon things they’d rather not have seen, and found themselves in situations that cross the thin blue line in the right way.

Here’s the basic rundown of how the game works: once you’ve created your Pokemon Trainer character, you start hunting for the digital critters on the app’s built-in map. Get close enough to the binary beast, you’ll be able to look through your smartphone’s display and “see” the Pokemon in the real world, thanks to the magic of augmented reality (AR). Toss a Pokéball at the Pokémon, and it should be yours. (Unless it’s one of the tougher creatures, in which case you’ll need to use alternate methods … if you’ve gotten that far, though, you won’t need us to explain things to you. But here’s one brief guide.)

As you collect the creatures, you’re meant to use your Pokemon to battle other trainers and teams. You can collect items that will help you in battles at PokeStops, and you can train your Pokemon at PokeGyms. Up until now, PokeStops and PokeGyms have been located near places of interest – everything from churches to clubs and public areas. The app is free to download, but in-game currency, which lets you buy items quickly, is available for a fee.

While Pokemon Go has been grabbing headlines around the world, and you can download it in more than 30 countries, it hasn’t been available in Japan – the land that set the phenomenon in motion. In fact, the announcement that Nintendo was going to smartphone platforms at all has been a significant departure from their business practice in the first place. Sales for the company’s DS line of portable products have been hit hard thanks to the success of casual gaming apps on iOS and Android devices. Nintendo chose an excellent partner – Niantic – for their second mobile app. Niantic was a part of Google when the search giant ran one of its more popular April Fool’s gags back in 2014 – filling Google Maps up with Pokemon around the world that you could collect.

Responding to questions about Pokemon Go’s slow rollout in Japan, Niantic CEO John Hanke told Forbes that the firm wanted to take the time to make sure that their servers would be able to handle the demand that millions of Japanese Pokemon fiends would hit them with. Many observers were expecting a late July release – if not much later. But with the announcement that the app will be out in the wild within the next 24 hours, excitement is building. [UPDATE: According to the website TechCrunch, Niantic is delaying the release of the game due to worries about overloaded servers. It looks to be soon, but we don’t recommend staying up late waiting.]

Along with the accelerated launch of Pokemon Go here in Japan comes the first sponsored Pokemon gym tie-up, as 3,000 McDonald’s Japan locations will be established as places where the gamers can level up their Pokemon and Trainers. Plenty of observers have already noted the business potential of the PokeStop and Pokemon Gym mechanic, and the decision has already been a huge shot in the arm for the fast food franchise, which, like Nintendo, has been struggling over the past couple of years, due in part to food quality scandals. McDonald’s Japan stock has soared following the announcement, and Nintendo’s value has also taken wings since the release of the app earlier this month.

Given the scenes that the app has caused around the globe already, we can only imagine what Japan’s first weekend will be like. But if you happen to see people looking even more intently at their smartphones than usual over the next few weeks, you’ll know what’s up.

Image: Pabkov/Shutterstock.com, “slightly” altered