By Andrew Main

And you thought you’d seen the last of those weird looking Pokemon characters around 15 years ago when your kids grew out of them and you quietly put the cards out in the recycling?

No such luck. Japanese gaming group Nintendo is enjoying a spectacular online revival via the free online game Pokemon GO, which was released on July 6 in the US, the UK, New Zealand and Australia.

To give you an idea of how it has taken off, the distributors have held off releasing it in Japan because that games-mad country evidently doesn’t yet have enough server capacity to meet predicted demand.

Last Friday, shares in Nintendo achieved the distinction of being the most heavily traded stock in one day, by value, on the Tokyo Stock Exchange so far this century, and Nintendo doesn’t even own the game.

Nintendo owns 32% of The Pokemon Company, which has a slice of the action courtesy of Google spinoff Niantic Labs, which devised the game.

US group Niantic is headed by CEO John Hanke and is still privately owned.

Where the craze is intersecting with normal human life is what its creators call ‘augmented reality.’

Pokemon GO gets gamers out of their bedrooms and sends them searching for genuine locations called PokeStops, where by using the GPS locators on their mobile phones they can collect points and catch and train some 135 various imaginary creatures starting with the MagiKarp, a homely looking goldfish that imitates a late tiddler by floating about on its side.

It’s like a treasure hunt for geeks, even if the treasure is a relative concept.

Some of the PokeStops have already involved confrontations between locals and gamers.

For instance, in Sydney’s sleepy suburb Rhodes last Tuesday night, irate residents called police to move on a big crowd of players who had gone to the Reg Paterson park around midnight to exploit the fact that it featured not one, but three, PokeStops.

Not that they were breaching the peace much: just double parking, talking a great deal, hogging the swings and no doubt bumping into each other as they looked down at their mobile phones instead of looking where they were going.

That’s clearly catching. As one local user put it, “I’ve been walking around playing Pokemon Go for ten minutes and half already walked into traffic twice.”

Not only do players gain points by accumulating PokeStops but the app uses vibrations and a flashing light to alert the player to the presence of a nearby Pokemon, which sounds a lot like a dating app. (And by the way, like sheep, the plural of Pokemon is Pokemon)

Another report had an angry Rhodes resident water bombing gamers from his balcony, while in Florida a man reportedly fired shots at gamers, thinking they were burglars. While he missed, it’s worryingly fair to assume it won’t be long until a confused US householder and second amendment fan takes out a gamer permanently.

A police station in Darwin has had to put out a message saying you don’t have to actually enter the station to collect a PokeStop, and there have been dark mutterings online about preserving the sanctity of graveyards, museums and the like, if little evidence so far of sacrilege.

It’s firmly a craze at the moment. For the more sober investor, how to harness some market action, given that the game is free unless you start buying the various bolt-ons?

Deutsche Bank has already calculated that to justify the 86% rise in Nintendo stock since the July 6 release, some 50% of the world’s current population would have to download the app, which seems a significant stretch.

The German bank’s analyst notes that if you assume the Pokemon GO fad lasts ten years and profits fall one-tenth annually, Nintendo has to generate $US3.3 billion of earnings this year.

“That requires $US14bn of in-app revenue if Nintendo receives one-third of the revenue through its stakes in the Pokemon Company and Niantic, at a 70%profit margin.”

“With Apple and Android taking their 30% cut, players must therefore spend $US21bn. If 5% of players actually pay and they spend $100 each, Nintendo’s share price jump only makes sense if the app is downloaded by every second person on planet Earth,’’ they said.

So that’s clearly a crowded trade, but there are other more prosaic angles to explore.

One is data providers. Any player whose mobile phone contract does not cover unlimited data can look forward to a hefty phone bill because Pokemon GO reportedly guzzles your data allowance.

Not least because to accumulate points, you have to keep moving and keep downloading.

As Mr Hanke claimed when Niantic launched the app, there’s a wearable thingy to buy as well.

“We are also super excited about the Pokémon GO Plus wearable device which will enable players to capture Pokémon and harvest items from PokéStops without ever taking their phone out of their pocket or bag”. 

The other related angle is mobile phone rechargers. Recently listed retailer Kogan has reported that sales of phone rechargers have more than tripled in the ten days since the app was released in Australia.

Because quite apart from guzzling users’ data allowance, the game also drains the life out of mobile phone batteries, leaving gamers even more stranded in actual reality.

But that doesn’t seem to have taken off yet.

Kogan shares, which floated on July 8 at $1.80, closed steady yesterday at $1.52.