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Should Japan regulate the virtual currency PokeCoins from Pokémon Go?

The Financial Services Agency of Japan is set to decide on what will be a landmark decision on the status and securitisation of PokeCoins, the virtual currency used to breed monsters in the hit mobile game Pokémon Go.

The FSA, which has not formally disclosed when it will make its ruling, is debating the PokeCoins issue with

PokeCoins from Pokémon Go

Should Japan regulate the virtual currency PokeCoins from Pokémon Go?

Pokémon Go’s US-based creator, Niantic.

The outcome, according to lawyers scrutinising the matter, could oblige domestic Japanese and overseas companies whose games are available in Japan to secure the virtual money they have sold to local gamers with substantial deposits of real-world yen – according to a report in the FT.

Analysts say that while the FSA is focused on PokeCoins, the regulatory time-bomb could threaten the magic stones of Puzzle & Dragons, the green gems of Clash of Clans and the rainbow orbs of Monster Strike.

The FSA is so far the only regulator in the world weighing the measure, but its decision looms over Japan-based pools of cash worth tens of millions of dollars, according to industry consultants. Yen-denominated sales of virtual currencies are especially high in Japan because of its status as the world’s most valuable mobile games market.

According to SuperData Research, annual revenues from mobile games in Japan have nearly tripled since 2012 to an estimated $8.6bn in 2016 — much of that, say analysts, driven by sales of virtual currency.

Pokémon Go has made the sale of its virtual currency especially appealing to players eager to complete the full collection of monsters. One hundred PokeCoins, costing Y120 ($1.16), will buy a monster lure while 500 will buy eight lucky eggs.

The issue the FSA is studying is whether PokeCoins and other virtual currencies that can be purchased in-game with actual cash should be legally classified as a prepayment system, and therefore come under the jurisdiction of Japan’s recently updated Payment Services Act.

If it were decided that they do, said the agency, the company selling the currency would be required to disclose the balance of unused currency held by gamers in March and September every year.

If the total on either occasion were more than Y10m ($96,300), a company such as Niantic could then be required to deposit the yen equivalent of as much as 50 per cent of the unused coin balance in a Japanese bank account.

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