Even though it isn’t officially out there yet, over 1m people are playing the game in Russia, writes Ilya Khrennikov
More than a million people in Moscow are playing Pokemon Go, the mobile game that’s dominating download charts in three dozen countries. The number is especially impressive because the game isn’t supposed to be available in Russia.
Despite attempts by app developer Niantic to manage global demand, fans in Russia and elsewhere have taken special steps to track down and install Pokemon Go before it is released officially, a process that sometimes involves tricking their phones into thinking they live in another country.
Russian carrier Mobile TeleSystems PJSC estimates that 1.37m people are playing Pokemon Go on major wireless networks in Moscow, a more than seven-fold increase from a week ago.
Corporate giants in Russia are trying to capture some of the excitement and drive people into their stores.
VimpelCom, the country’s third-biggest mobile carrier, said retail staff will teach customers how to get around region blocks to download the game. Sberbank PJSC, the country’s largest financial lender, has purchased items in the app to lure the game’s creatures to locations near 29 branches in large cities, boosting traffic of younger clients looking to catch ’em all.
Russia’s government is wary of the phenomenon. Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, suggested last month that playing Pokemon at the Moscow Kremlin and other cultural sites is disrespectful. Politician Frants Klintsevich told state TV that the game should be restricted in sacred places such as churches and cemeteries. Evgeny Fedorov, another lawmaker, warned that Pokemon Go could help assemble political protests.
The government said it plans to release a Pokemon-like app sometime this month for capturing the nation’s cultural and historical figures. People will be able to walk the city and find 3D images of Ivan the Terrible, poet Alexander Pushkin, and astronaut Yuri Gagarin. They will then be able to take a selfie with the figures inside the app, according to city hall.
Meanwhile, Israeli soldiers have been banned from playing Pokemon Go on military bases due to security concerns.
The military has told soldiers and officers that the game activates mobile phone cameras and location services, and could leak sensitive information such as army base locations and photographs of the bases.
The military is also concerned that soldiers could download a fake app that impersonates Pokemon Go and could leak information from their phones.
Israel’s emergency rescue service Magen David Adom has also issued a warning about Pokemon Go, saying Israelis have suffered moderate injuries while playing the game.
Players roam through the physical world holding up their phones and searching for creatures that appear on the screen.
Last week, a 15-year-old girl suffered a head injury after she fell off her bike while pursuing Pokemon, and a 35-year-old player ran into a glass door and suffered “massive bleeding” in his legs, Magen David Adom said on its website.
“Apparently the game is not as friendly as we thought,” the statement said.
The Israel Cancer Association has advised players not to go outdoors to catch Pokemon creatures in the middle of the day to avoid excessive sun exposure.
“In the game itself, some of the Pokemon snatchers are always with a baseball hat on,” the association said on its website. “In the real world too, make sure you wear a hat before going outdoors.”
The AIG insurance company in Israel is taking advantage of the Pokemon craze to market its personal accident insurance policy that covers accidents caused while playing such mobile phone games.
Yifat Reiter, of AIG, said the company has received dozens of inquiries about the accident insurance for Pokemon players.
For Palestinians, Pokemon Go is a frustrating game to play because mobile high-speed internet services do not exist in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Under interim peace accords, Israel controls wireless networks in the area and it only recently announced that it would allow high-speed internet access in the West Bank, though the technology has not yet gone into effect.
The Palestinians are among a few markets in the world that still use older 2G technology, according to the International Telecommunication Union, a UN agency.
Naim Samsoum, 26, a Gaza-based animator, was one of the first people in the territory to download the game. He said he managed to catch three Pokemons only after installing a costly 2G internet service from the only mobile service provider in Gaza.
“I stopped because it was very expensive for me,” said Samsoum.
He also ran into another obstacle: The fourth Pokemon he wanted to catch was located on the premises of the Palestinian Legislative Council, an off-limits government building run by Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza.
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