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ZOOM INChanges Sokcho's Economy
by Ji-Soo Kim, CP Reporter | 승인 2016.12.17 09:06|(256호)

Everyone has at least one cartoon that remains in their childhood memories. It is safe to say that Pokémon, which was sensationally popular, is an old favorite for many. Now in 2016, the

cartoon has returned in the form of a game called Pokémon Go. This is an augmented reality game made by Niantic Inc. on the smartphone. Unlike other games, the augmented reality technology used in this game made players feel as if they were actually in the game. It was released to 35 countries worldwide, starting in the United States, on July 6th. In Sokcho, a small city in the northern part of South Korea, the game’s impact has quickly turned into an economic opportunity for many local retailers.

 

The world is on fire for Pokémon Go.

  In short, it is a smartphone application that allows users to catch virtual Pokémon that they can encounter in real-life locations through the camera screens of their phones. The many different types of Pokémon available are driving fans to go to different parts of their country to collect them all, including the all-famous Pikachu. It should, however, be noted that the game has not been launched properly in South Korea. Nevertheless, people have been able to take advantage of the minor glitches in the GPS signal-namely, people living near Sokcho of Gangwon province, as well as some parts of Ulsan and Busan. These areas have been excluded from the game’s
restricted service regions, and are thus identified as another country in the developers’ mapping data. The economic effect that this has had on the respective cities, especially Sokcho, is monumental. Business for local retailers has been booming in the area, because many in Korea have heard the news and are flocking to Sokcho, even causing train tickets to be sold out in the first few weekends of its unofficial premier. Needless to say, this has also caused some safety issues. There have been cases where people have been too absorbed in the game to notice where they are walking, occasionally bumping into other people or failing to notice an incoming car on the road. Out of all the retailers that are doing better due to this phenomenon, the convenience stores have reaped the biggest profit so far. While they have always provided smartphone battery charging services in the past, it has never been in demand as much as now. The game itself requires the users to walk around the city, often times leaving these adventurers low on battery in the middle of their quests. Not only that, but sales for portable battery chargers have also skyrocketed.

The nature of the application requires the consumption of a lot of battery power because players are constantly utilizing the GPS as well as the phone’s camera function. According to BGF Retail, who operates CU convenient stores, there was an increase of 388 percent in their battery charging services and an increase of 82.4 percent in sales of portable batteries, earphones, and other small electronic gadgets. In terms of daily sales during the first week of the hype, there was an overall increase of double. It appears that Pokémon Go trainers stopped to rest at the dispersed stores to stock up on cool refreshments, with the weather being very hot during this time in Korea. Not to mention, these stores have now added to their stock Pokémon-related toys, stationary, and mobile accessories as well. Another area in which the city has been impacted economically includes their restaurant business. When a particularly rare Pokémon is rumored to have been found nearby a certain restaurant, many people hear of the news through SNS and flock to the location, thus giving a boost to the business. This has restaurants putting up large signs and banners on their front doors, signaling to Pokémon trainers nearby that their building may house a rare Pokémon. A couple of tourist attraction spots have also been affected. Near the south of the city is a Buddhist temple complex, known as Naksansa. With people claiming to have had frequent sightings within these temple grounds, it is now common to witness many people there walking around with their eyes on their smartphones, rather than enjoying the attraction itself. All of this, despite the fact that there is a small entry fee to get into the grounds. It should also be noted that some people catching Pokémon have even been sighted on the peak of Seorak Mountain. This peak, known as Gwongeumseong, can only be reached by taking a cable car, which is a service one can enjoy for the price of 10,000 Korean won per person. Of course, it is safe to assume that these individuals did not go up there just to add to their virtual collection. It is, however, evidence that this game is constantly on the minds of everyone in this city. This phenomenon can be seen in almost any place that may gather a crowd. For example, the beaches of Sokcho have always been crowded during the summer, but people now have one more reason to plan their vacation here over other summer attractions. For some, especially younger kids, catching the water-type Pokémon that are hiding near these shores has become their utmost priority. While this new trend provides economical as well as even exercise-related benefits, it has simultaneously been problematic in relation to safety. Places like the beach are extremely crowded during its peak season, and kids staring into their phone screens while completely unaware of where they are walking has led to minor accidents. In addition, when people were not careful with this game in the streets while cars were driving by, the city government had to step in. One can now see banners placed all throughout the city that remind the people to put safety first - stating that before chasing after a Pokémon, they should be aware of their surroundings. Pokémon Go has changed Sokcho from a hot summer vacation spot for Koreans to a hotter one, even attracting tourists from nearby countries like China, where the game is forbidden. While the city will continue to make efforts to keep these Pokémon trainers safe from harm during their travels, they will also ceaselessly make the most of this opportunity in order to change its economic climate. One of the things they are doing to retain this boom is providing free Wi-Fi zones, which have been set up at various locations throughout the city. Not only that, but the mayor of Sokcho has created an alter ego of himself as a Pokémon professor. He has a booth set up every weekend downtown for anyone who wishes to take a photo with him dressed in a similar fashion to Professor Oak from the original cartoon series. It seems that as long as the safety of its citizens comes first, any creative way that the government and retailers can find to capitalize on this opportunity is fair game.
 by Ji-Soo Kim, CP Reporter / Ju-Yeon Han, CUB Repoter

by Ji-Soo Kim, CP Reporter  jonathankim@cnu.ac.kr

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