Business / Tech

'Pokemon Go' launches in Rio just ahead of Olympics

Reuters

The creators of “Pokemon Go” said the blockbuster mobile game has been released in Brazil just in time for the Rio Olympics, which start on Friday.

A spokesman for the game’s publisher Niantic confirmed in an email that “the app is currently rolling out across all of Central and South America.”

Earlier on Wednesday, the official Twitter account for “Pokemon Go” tweeted that it was working hard to launch the game in South America’s largest nation and told fans to “stay tuned.”

Before the game was widely available there, some athletes had already been playing it and racked up hefty phone charges. Gymnast Kohei Uchimura landed a nearly $5,000 phone bill in Rio after he was persuaded by his teammates to download the game shortly after touching down in Brazil for a pre-Games training camp last week.

Some in Brazil have questioned how players will stay safe. Robbers in other countries have targeted distracted mobile phone players, and Brazil’s steepest economic recession since the 1930s has been stoking crime and straining public finances. There have been threats of police strikes on the eve of the games.

In the United States, some players, including children, have been drawn down dark alleys and into dangerous neighborhoods in search of the imaginary creatures, only to be targeted by criminals. Players have also been involved in car accidents.

The game can work anywhere in the world using GPS but was officially unavailable for download by local players in Brazil until Wednesday. Earlier, athletes who arrived at the Olympic village expressed disappointment about the game not being widely available.

U.S. diver Abby Johnston tweeted July 26 that the worst thing about the Olympic village was she could not play the game.

Players use their mobile devices to search real-life locations in hopes of finding and capturing virtual Pokemon characters such as cuddly yellow Pikachu that appear on their screens.

The game marries a classic 20-year-old Nintendo franchise with augmented reality and has surged on Apple Inc’s app charts since its release last month. It is on its way to becoming the first mobile game to break the $4 billion-per-year barrier, beating Candy Crush Saga. Nintendo Co. Ltd. owns 32 percent of The Pokemon Company, which holds Pokemon’s intellectual property.

There will be around 10,500 athletes competing in the Olympics from Aug. 5 to Aug. 21 in Rio, plus 5,000 coaches and team officials.