Pokemon Go screencap

Five days ago, game developer Niantic released Pokemon Go for iPhone and Android in the United States, New Zealand and Australia. Despite being available in only a handful of countries, the number of people using it on a daily basis is approaching the number of people who are active on Twitter. Such has been the demand that Niantic has paused its global rollout to deal with the server demands. But what is Pokemon Go, and why is it so popular?

OK, start at the beginning. What are Pokemon?

In Australia, Pokemon (an abbreviation of Pocket Monsters) was a key part of childhood for many people growing up in the 1990s. Pokemon started as a Japanese video game for Nintendo's handheld Game Boy gaming console, which placed kids in a world where there are no animals but 150 (at first) types of Pokemon, which can be captured, trained and sent into battle with others in a sort of digital cock-fight. There were numerous spin-off video games, a card game, a TV series and a couple of movies. The brand, owned by the privately held Pokemon Company (which is itself owned by gaming companies Nintendo, Game Freak and Creatures), made US$2 billion in retail sales last year.