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IT experts warn Russians against Pokemon Go craze

July 14, 12:59 UTC+3 MOSCOW
The augmented reality game launched by Nintendo and Google on July 6 has been dominating the download charts in the US and Australia and has reportedly become more popular than Twitter and Tinder
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© EPA/JUSTIN LANE

MOSCOW, July 14. /TASS/. Pokemon Go, a new GPS-enabled mobile app, which blends virtual reality with real life, has become a sensation in the United States, Australia and New Zealand but is still unavailable to European and Russian users.

However, some of them have found a way to get access to the popular game, for instance, by changing their region to the US on their smartphone settings.

IT experts questioned by TASS warned users against attempting to get the game before its official release in Russia and urged them not to lose vigilance while playing outdoors.

The augmented reality game launched by Nintendo and Google on July 6 has been dominating the download charts in the US and Australia and has reportedly become more popular than Twitter and Tinder, a location-based dating app.

The Pokemon Go app allows players to wander about their neighborhoods catching Pokemon creatures by using smartphone cameras and tracking their location in the real world.

Sometimes the game lures its users into quite unusual places like hospital or cemeteries.

IT experts expect the app to be available in Russia soon and advise Pokemon hunters to wait for the official launch to avoid possible risks.

Trojan Pokemon

Malicious versions of Pokemon Go have already appeared on the Internet, says Denis Makrushin, an anti-virus expert at Kaspersky Lab. For example, some copies of the game that users download from untrusted sources contain trojans intercepting control over the victim’s device and stealing personal data.

"Almost any popular mobile application immediately attracts the attention of cybercriminals. The same happened with Pokemon Go," Makrushin said.

The expert advised Russian fans of Pokemon to refrain from installing apps from unofficial sources and wait for the game to be released in Russia. However, malicious applications can even be found in official stores, he said. Thus, it is necessary to update smartphones’ antivirus applications regularly.

A safer method is when people "cheat" by registering the accounts of their applications’ stores in countries where it is officially available. This would not pose any threat to mobile devices, except smartphones that actively tie user accounts to a particular country and do not allow them to revert to their real jurisdiction, Director of the Russian Association for Electronic Communications (RAEC), Sergey Plugotarenko said in an interview with TASS.

"An Android device that I bought many years ago in the United States rigidly tied all my Google accounts to the American localization and it took me a good while to manage it," he said, adding that at the same time mobile operational systems became much more flexible, and solving such problems became easier, too.

Augmented reality

Pokemon Go frights users with physical danger, as players in search for the virtual "pet" have to move in the real world, and pokemons could be found anywhere - at home, on the streets, in public transport, state institutions etc. "It really immerses people in augmented reality and distracts them from real life, possibly leading to injuries and negligence. There are reported incidents of robbery, when offenders lured their victims into specific places associated with the game," Plugotarenko said.

At the same time, Presidential Advisor on the development of the Internet, German Klimenko, is confident that universal interest in the game would not pose any significant threat to people in real life. "People are already walking with their heads in their phones. People can adapt to anything - I think we will adapt to this," Klimenko said. "A few years ago, everybody worried that people would communicate less in real world because of smartphones - you go to the restaurant and nobody would take their eyes off the screen. Now we are used to it. So, we could talk about the effect the game has on people only after some time," he added.

Director of the game department at Mail.ru Group, Alexander Kuzmenko, shares a similar opinion, who believes that the diversity of "funny stories" associated with the game could be attributed to its popularity. "Every other smartphone user who is generally interested in games, plays it. The main thing is to be aware of your surroundings, and everything will be fine," he said.

Russia awaits

Following the launch of Pokemon Go, Nintendo’s capitalization to date increased by 57.7% to $31.57 bln. Experts predict that this figure will continue to grow after the game’s releases in the new markets. However, they believe the game will surely become successful in Russia.

"I think it will be the first major Nintendo success in Russia in recent years, Russia has a well-developed mobile market. Mobile gaming market annual growth exceeds 20%. The game with new mechanics and part of the blockbuster franchise is doomed to success," Kuzmenko said. "We have a well-developed culture of video game consumption, and our audience adapts to the international trend just fine," he said.

Pokemon Go is only the first step in the development of augmented reality gaming, Plutogarenko said. According to his forecast, the game will be at the peak of popularity for the next six months to one year, taking into account various launch times in different countries, and then will be replaced by other solutions that will use augmented reality even "further, deeper and will have more interesting possibilities."

Director of the game department at Mail.ru Group, Alexander Kuzmenko noted that the Russian gaming market is currently estimated at about $900 mln, where mobile games occupy 25% and gradually replace browser and social networking games. At the same time, Russia accounts for 1.5-2% of the global mobile gaming market, according to Developer and former General Producer of Game Insight, Leonid Sirotin. "If Pokemon Go earns $100 mln per month, it will be $1-2 mln in Russia. In my opinion, this is a bit much, Pokemon in Russia does not have such a cult following as in America or Japan," he added.

According to Director of the Russian Association for Electronic Communications (RAEC), Sergey Plugotarenko, the potential audience for such games is comparable with the audience of popular services like Twitter and Snapchat. "Augmented reality games are not very significant in monetary terms, but in terms of users," he said. However, it is currently unclear how many people will become regular consumers, and what monetization model will be selected in the future, he added. The game itself is currently free, but the users can make in-game purchases.

Mail.ru Group game department Director, Alexander Kuzmenko also did not make any predictions for the game’s possible financial performance in Russia and other countries. "It is hard to tell how much they can make. This is an entertainment project, which means it is hardly predictable," he said. According to him, the approximate cost of developing Pokemon Go is $1 mln, but the main question is how much it costs to use the Pokemon franchise.

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