Niantic's hugely successful mobile AR games may finally be heading to China this year, following a new partnership between the developer and NetEase which was reportedly formed during a round of investment funding in Niantic. That's according to sources at Forbes, which cited a recent interview of Niantic's CEO, John Hanke, by the Japanese publication Financial Times. In the interview, Hanke is said to have reiterated the company's intent to bring its full library of mobile title to China and expressed excitement about being able to develop new titles within the country itself. If the reports about the deal are accurate, that would mean that Chinese mobile gamers will finally have a chance to check out Pokemon GO, Ingress, and the company's upcoming Harry Potter AR title. It could also mean a brand new selection of games from Niantic that originate in China before being released globally.
There would, of course, also be immense challenges in bringing its games to China. To begin with, even if the reports are accurate, there are logistical problems to be faced due to the size of the country. Niantic would need to effectively build out a network of locations from scratch to be used as central hubs in each of its AR titles. That's a task the company has already accomplished in several other countries but in those cases the build-up was gradual, beginning with the very first iteration of Ingress released more than 5 years ago. Beyond that, the cultural differences and accompanying laws within the region will need to be overcome. For example, Pokemon GO features some catchable monsters that may not be usable within the region due to restrictions on when, how, and whether video games can include offensive themes and imagery – which can include imagery falling into categories that can be tied in with death. One example is the game's inclusion of two Pokemon called Cubone and Duskull.
Finally, some Chinese mobile users have already been playing Pokemon GO by spoofing their location in order to work around the title not being available within their country. The activity is actually considered cheating within Niantic's games and carries consequences for users who participate in the activity. Niantic would need to implement measures to dissuade that type of activity without driving users away from its games. With all of that said, entering the Chinese app market would still ultimately be a great opportunity for Niantic to create substantial growth for its business.