Pokémon Go Fever Hits Russia, Making Kremlin Nervous

1.37 Million Russians Already Playing Game Before It Has Been Officially Released

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More than a million people in Moscow are playing Pokémon 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 Pokémon Go before it's released officially, a process that sometimes involves tricking their phones into thinking they live in another country. Russian carrier Mobile TeleSystems PJSC estimates that 1.37 million people are playing Pokémon 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 Russian President Vladimir Putin, suggested in July that playing Pokémon at the Moscow Kremlin and other cultural sites is disrespectful. Lawmaker Frants Klintsevich told state TV that the game should be restricted in sacred places such as churches and cemeteries. Evgeny Fedorov, another lawmaker, warned in an online post that Pokémon Go could help assemble political protests.

The Moscow government said it plans to release a Pokémon-like mobile app in August 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.

-- Bloomberg News

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