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The island where you can't play Pokémon Go


Around 40,000 people live on the Greek island of Salamis, 10 miles off the coast of Athens. Among its population is a small but dedicated community of Pokmon Go players. Or there was, at least, until earlier this year – when all wild Pokmon vanished.

Pokmon Go, like many other real-world AR games, runs on map data provided by Open Street Maps (OSM). This service is widely-used because it is open source. It’s also editable by anyone – a Wikipedia-like version of Google Maps.

But, like Wikipedia, inaccuracies can creep in. On OSM itself, this isn’t a huge issue – changes are noticed by other editors and any obvious errors are reverted. But while OSM map data is constantly updated, games which pull data from it are not as thorough.

Pokmon Go uses map data last imported many months ago. The advantage to this is you can’t just go on OSM, flag your back garden as a park, and instantly watch Pokmon appear in-game. The downside, though, is things flagged wrongly on the map don’t get quickly updated and fixed.

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Salamis.

Map data consists of the obvious things you can see – roads, parks, places of worship – and then other layers. Areas can be tagged with a certain label so that services which use OSM data can see more technical types of information.

This is what has happened on Salamis, where the whole island was flagged with the “natural=bay” tag. Within Pokmon Go, this tag tells Niantic’s servers “do not spawn Pokmon here”, presumably because it sounds like the whole area is underwater. And while the tag has now been removed on OSM itself, this version of the map has not been imported into Pokmon Go.

You can see a similar effect happening at train stations. If the area has been tagged correctly as part of the railway network in OSM, no Pokmon will spawn in-game. The only way to get around this is to have a PokStop present in which you can insert a lure – an item you usually have to pay for.

“It is such a pity for us to be unable to play the game that unites us and that we enjoy.”

“We have been spawnless for seven whole months,” Salamis Pokmon player Nick told me.

“Since the last OSM update in the game our island has been left without any wild spawns, since someone wrongfully tagged our island, along with many more islands, as bay areas.”

Nick and other islanders have attempted to contact Niantic’s customer support about the issue several times – but never with much success.

“Our reports to Niantic have gone either unanswered or replied to with general responses such as ‘Go play somewhere else’, ‘Visit a place with more PokStops’ (the island has about 400 PokStops in total), or even the ridiculous answer of ‘Check if your mobile data/GPS is active’.”

So, this week, Salamis residents have gone to the game’s global community to raise awareness. On the game’s SilphRoad reddit, a thread about the island’s issue has gained a huge amount of attention.

Says Nick: “This is really our final shot before completely giving up on the game.

“It is such a pity for us to be unable to play the game that unites us and that we enjoy.”