And Finally

Copycats Go

Pokemon craze inspires slew of Chinese augmented reality app knockoffs

Raman Hui w

Got you: a character from Monster Hunt that features in the new game

Even if someone has been living in a cave for the past few weeks, it would be hard to miss the Pokemon Go phenomenon. Developed by American mobile game developer Niantic Labs, the game uses augmented reality and location tracking on a smartphone to enable players to capture virtual creatures in the real world.

The popular app had led to some unforeseen consequences. Some players have crashed their cars as they (somewhat stupidly) played and drove at the same time. A few have reportedly fallen off cliffs. Last month, one player was even shot dead after trespassing onto private property while attempting to catch a rare Pokemon.

But while it has generated a plethora of headlines globally, the game is still unavailable in China. Tech in Asia, a technology blog, reckons that it is unlikely that the game will ever receive the green light from regulators. For a start, Niantic Labs is a spinoff of Google, which is enough to set off alarm bells within Beijing. Moreover, the government is also worried that the game could lead people to wander around Chinese military bases and other secret areas as they search for Pokemon – and perhaps be a vehicle for US intelligence agencies to gather data.

While it remains to be seen if and when Pokemon Go will launch in China, many local game developers have quickly launched mobile games that bear striking similarities to the Niantic game.

First, there is City Spirit Go. Even though the game failed to gain traction when it was first released in March, it quickly became one of the most downloaded mobile games after Pokemon Go went viral in July. The developer of the game claims that City Spirit Go is “100% original”, though a lot of elements of the game look strikingly familiar, says China Times. For instance, the virtual creatures are near identical to Pokemon. Even the virtual balls look the same. The only difference is that the technology is not quite at Pokemon Go’s level – the game is not based on real-time location information.

­But City Spirit Go will soon face some tough competition against a slew of other Pokemon-inspired games. There is the marina-themed AquaCatch Go, ShanhaiJing Go (based on a work of classic literature) and Monster Hunt Go (adapted from the 3D action fantasy box office hit Monster Hunt, see WiC292). The developer of Monster Hunt Go reckons that the game will be more appealing to Chinese gamers because most users in China are unfamiliar with Pokemon while the characters in Monster Hunt Go are based closely on Chinese mythology.

But some users are not particularly impressed with Monster Hunt Go, calling it shanzhai, which means counterfeit. “Chinese companies are always such good copycats,” one internet user mocks.

Another wrote: “This reminds me of the idiom: dong shi xiao pin (which means trying to impersonate someone but producing an undesirable result).”

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