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Don Sambandaraksa

Relive your childhood with Pokemon Go

While Nintendo’s market cap has increased by over $9 billion because of the release of Pokemon Go, spare a thought for Niantic Labs who actually wrote the game and the players of its other AR game, Ingress, who populated the game with real-world data used for the Pokestops and Pokemon Gyms.

If you were to believe the news on the interwebs, one would have thought that Nintendo has pulled off a coup. After missing the boat entirely when it comes to mobile phone based games and making a dog’s breakfast out of its last two gaming consoles, we are led to believe that they have struck gold with Pokemon Go.

Pokemon Go is an augmented reality game where the users have to walk around in real life catching Pokemon, getting extra items such as Pokeballs from Pokestops and levelling up in battles at Pokemon Gyms. To access a Pokestop or a Gym, one has to be within 40 meters of the Pokestop or Gym.

However, what most of the stories neglect to mention when cooing over Nintendo’s first $7, then $7.5 and now $9 billion market cap increase from the success of Pokemon Go is that Nintendo’s participation is only indirect.

Niantic Labs, which was until recently owned by Google and only spun off into an independent company in August 2015, was the one to develop Pokemon Go, not Nintendo. Indeed,the bulk of the gameplay engine is lifted directly from Niantic’s other augmented-reality mega-hit Ingress with little modification.

All the Pokestops and Gyms I have seen so far are Exotic Matter portals in the Ingress world and use the same photos and descriptions that were submitted by Ingress players over the past three years. The logic behind spinning Pokestops for items is practically the same as hacking portals for items. The two use the same distance from portals/pokestops (40 meters). 

Incubating an egg means walking in the Pokemon Go world, while walking in Ingress is counted towards an agent badge that allows the agent to level up rather than the egg (for which there is no directly equivalent).

Apart from the actual Pokemon Gym battles and the way Pokeballs are thrown to catch Pokemon, the game is basically lifted from Ingress.

That, and the fact that instead of two factions in Ingress (Enlightened and Resistance - hint, join the heroic Enlightened and help the author save the planet from the evil resistance) there are three in Pokemon Go and in both games the goal is to gain territory for your faction by linking up triangles of portals in Ingress or by simply capturing gyms in Pokemon Go.

Nary a peep has been made about Niantic’s contribution to the success of Pokemon Go in mainstream or social media and everyone and their cat seems to think that Nintendo is now changing the world of gaming forever, hence their meteoric share price increase.

Sorry to pop your bubble but Nintendo’s contribution is limited to being one of the three companies which own the Pokemon Company, which owns and controls the Pokemon Franchise in most countries. Yes, they will make bucketloads of money from it but it was Niantic who did the work.

For anyone of a certain age that grew up with Pokemon in the late nineties, Pokemon Go (for now) brings back that magical childhood with just the original and best 150 Pokemon and none of the awkward ones of latter games.

One other point that is interesting is how Niantic have chosen to lock down the game. For instance the UK is not yet officially supported yet all the Pokestops and gyms are active and everyone and their dog is now playing the game after having sideloaded the app whereas in Thailand there is simply nothing at all in-game. Abu Dhabi is another country that is not officially supported and yet Abu Dhabi airport is chock full of rock-type Pokemon.

Nintendo, sorry I meant Niantic, really needs to hurry up and launch Pokemon Go globally if for no better reason that to stop everyone from downloading and installing dodgy .APK files that have malware or worse