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Location, Location, Location

The Games That Get Phone Users Moving


Ishidaya in Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture.

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An increasing number of mobile phone users are becoming avid players of ichige ("location games"), a type of online game that utilizes location data provided through their phones' GPS function. In the games, players receive virtual currency according to where and how far they travel; they can then use the currency to "buy" virtual items and souvenirs. The game is especially popular among company workers in their twenties and thirties as a way to enjoy business trips or the daily commute to work.

Encouraging Gamers to Head Outside The mobile phone game Colopula (short for Colony Life Plus), operated by COLOPL Inc., is the pioneer of the ichige genre. This popular game site has approximately 310,000 users, as of July 31, 2009. In this game, users receive a "colony" (town) to develop. The colony grows as the player accumulates various items, including land, buildings, water, and food. Items, which number in the thousands, are purchased with pula, the game's currency. Players who register their location information through the GPS function on their phones can receive pula for the distance between their current locations and a previously registered location. Players' stocks of pula increase the farther they travel and the more often they register their location.

There are also area-specific "souvenirs" that can be purchased only if the player is physically in or near a particular place, a feature that gives players extra incentive to travel to these locations to collect these prized items. For example, you can only buy a virtual Yubari melon, famous for its juicy orange flesh, if you go to the city of Yubari in Hokkaido, or some "Koshien soil," which holds sentimental value for fans of high-school baseball, if you are close to Koshien Stadium, which is near the city of Kobe. Users can also enjoy communication with fellow players by exchanging items and giving gifts.


Information on the special rice cake confection resembling a meteorite.

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In another location game, Keitai Kunitori Gassen (Battle for the Countries), operated by Mapion Co., players become warriors whose objective is to unite the 600 "countries" that make up the Japanese archipelago. Players take over a "country" when they actually set foot there and input the location information using GPS. It's like a giant "stamp rally" (a real-life game in which players get their cards stamped for visiting particular locations) played out across the whole of Japan.

Players accumulate koban, the game's currency, by answering questions about Japanese history. Koban can be used to purchase armor, horses, and other items at virtual shops. There are also real-life events held for players of this virtual game. Some players exchange information about their "countries," and others enjoy dining out and sightseeing in the "countries" that they have taken over. The number of players topped 260,000 in early August 2009. Other companies have created similar town-building and travel games, and the genre is only growing in popularity.

A New Marketing Tool These travel games are attracting the attention of businesses; railway companies and well-known stores around the country have devised a series of promotional campaigns connected with the games.


A rice cake resembling a meteor.

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COLOPL has partnered with long-established provincial businesses to create special game-related items, such as souvenirs and Coloca plastic cards, in connection with products sold at each store. Players who buy a particular product in one of the stores in person receive a card with a serial number on that can be entered into their phones to receive the virtual item. When the confectionery shop Ishidaya in Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture, prepared a special mochi (rice cake) confection resembling a meteorite encountered by players in the game, for example, it sold more than 3,000 boxes of the treats in one month.

Mapion, meanwhile, has teamed up with East Japan Railway Company (JR East) to create promotional campaigns for visiting such places as locations from samurai-themed TV dramas and castles nationwide, encouraging players to travel to their destinations by train. (October 2009)

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