How do you get Pikachu on a train?

Stuart Fuller

Like many parents, I breathed a big sigh of relief when my child’s Pokémon obsession was finally laid to rest in a playroom cupboard a number of years ago. As with most crazes, it quickly took hold and took over every waking hour of our lives, with pester power slowly eating away until we spent fortunes on the little Japanese monsters who appeared to have no use.

Look away now if you’re easily distracted or remember those times with a shudder. Pokémon is back, and with all his mates in tow. This time, he’s joined the virtual world in a new game called Pokémon Go. Sorry, I need to rephrase that – it’s an ‘augmented-reality app’ that integrates with your surroundings so you can track down and catch virtual Pokémon. Although the app is only available to download in a small number of countries – among them Australia, New Zealand and the USA – it’s taking the mobile gaming world by storm as desperate users try to find technical work-arounds to be able to download it in regions such as the UK.

We’re not just talking about kids hooked on the game either – a scan of my social media profiles shows some of my more sane and reasoned friends talking rather too energetically about trying to find Pokémons (monsters), Pokéstops (landmarks) and Pokéballs (bait to capture said monster at said landmark). That said, some of them are the same people who 20 years ago were kids going mad for the original game.

So what’s the problem? Well, the whole craze has thrown up a number of issues. First, there’s been concern about the amount of access the app has on a player’s phone, ranging from their search history to the contents of their Google Drive. There has even been an incident in the US where the game was used to lure players to remote places where they were robbed at gunpoint.

However, the concern for Nintendo should not just focus on how some users have been able to work around the geographical download restrictions, but also on the number of copycat apps that have been released into regions where the authentic version isn’t available. According to the website TechInAsia, the number one free game in the iOS App Store is City Sprint Go, whose main character bears a striking resemblance to Pikachu, the main Pokémon character. Also on the list is Go Catch ‘Em All – another very similar game. With demand for the product soaring, it’s no surprise that counterfeiters have moved into the virtual space to try and take advantage; some of the games offer in-app purchases, which could lead to personal financial data being compromised.

The increasing adoption of smart phones means the app market is at an all-time high, in terms of both development and revenue. Unfortunately, that draws in characters who have maleficent intentions, knowing that developing an app that can steal personal data can deliver big returns and is virtually risk-free. App developers can disappear as quickly as they originally appeared, leaving the app user out of pocket and even with a smartphone that has been compromised by malware. So, whilst the temptation is there to go chasing little monsters around the neighborhood, think twice about what app you’re actually downloading.

Pokémon Go has added an estimated $7 billion to the value of Nintendo’s market capitalization, and seems likely to continue to grow as the game hits the Japanese market very soon before moving into China. Let’s just hope that the issue of rogue apps can be addressed before any harm can be done to the brand.

So how do you get Pikachu on a train? You Poke-him-on. The old ones are always the best...