Pinchas M. Orbach
Pinchas M. Orbach
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Lessons Learned Hacking Pokémon Go

The popular game is actually fairly simple to hack, even if you don't have a programming background; most of the work has already been done and it’s all well documented on the internet
Illustrative photo of a young Israeli man playing Pokémon Go on his iPhone, on July 28, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of a young Israeli man playing Pokémon Go on his iPhone, on July 28, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Pokémon Go, the mobile game sensation, is actually fairly simple to hack. Especially so if you have a programming background and even if you don’t. Most of the work has already been done and it’s all well documented on the Internet. And now that it’s over a month since the record breaking mobile game was released, here are some insights I gained both playing and hacking Pokémon Go.

The technology aspects used to create the Pokémon Go experience including augmented reality are truly exciting. Without question many of the technologies developed will become useful in other non-gaming areas of life. That’s a full article in its own right.

So without going off on tangent, first up, the game really forced me to tour Jerusalem like never before. It almost literally requires you to stop and smell the roses. It’s ironic that a common criticism is that the game can cause players to be oblivious of their surroundings when actually their surroundings are such an important inherent part of the game. For example, I must have walked up and down Ben Yehuda Street thousands of times without ever noticing there is a beautiful Wallace drinking fountain situated right there in the middle. Thanks to the game I was compelled to get an up-close look at this impressive work of art.

Another thing I learned is not to take for granted how Jerusalem is unusually packed with sites relating to religion, culture, history and public art. This gives Jerusalem players an advantage over players from other cities with less sites of significant importance as each of these spots allow players to restock items needed to play the game and they therefore don’t have to travel very far from home to play.

Also, I received an appreciation for the young population of the city who did such a remarkable job documenting all these sites for the game. Actually, most of the data for these sites was imported from another game called Ingress. But without a very engaged population that was proud of our city (and enthusiastic Ingress players) there would be a far less number of important sites recorded.

So how is Pokémon Go hacked? Well for one thing as a response to technical issues with the game – a feature that was supposed to show where nearby creatures where located malfunctioned or was deliberately disabled to save server resources – some gamers developed a tool that shows exactly where Pokémon are located at any given time anywhere in the world. (This tool is no longer needed as the nearby feature has been updated in new releases with similar functionality.) That tool can be combined with another tool that allows the mobile game to be played from a desktop computer. The gamer’s geo-coordinates can be changed to anywhere in the world with a few clicks. (Though zipping from place to place quicker than can be done in real life can get your account banned.)  So gamers could spot the critter they want with the first tool and then fly on over to that location and catch it with the second one – all without leaving the house. Also virtually walking from location to location allows gamers to reach all those item restocking sites quicker and effortlessly. Yes, by all accounts it’s cheating.

Which brings us to our next lesson. Cheaters never prosper. Well actually one can do quite well score-wise using this method but the game quickly becomes enormously boring and monotonous. Even the battles against other Pokémon trainers loses all excitement, despite the fact that there are concrete and complex strategies needed to be successful. And as the game progresses it doesn’t really introduce anything new other than needing to accumulate more and more points to achieve a higher level.  Perhaps sticking with the game more than a week or two would introduce new challenges. Indeed, the game is clearly designed to encourage lifelong participation. And if I were a teenager I would most certainly oblige. It really is the perfect season long activity for the summer vacation… not to mention the rest of the school year.

But now, after catching several scores of Pokémon, hatching a bunch, evolving a few others, and earning several dozen badges and reaching level 12, I’ve at last uninstalled the as-of-yet-unauthorized-in-Israel game. My phone battery thanks me.




About the Author
Pinchas Orbach was the CTO for and served as an Information Security Specialist for the United States government. He lectured for the Computer Science Department at Queens College and volunteers his time with Aliyah organizations. He himself made Aliyah from Queens, New York and now lives in Jerusalem with his wife and two sons.
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