Pokemon Go Maker Niantic is Building a Massive AR Social Gaming Network


What is happening

Pokemon Go maker Niantic is expanding its AR software to cover the world with a 3D map for apps and games.

why is it important

Many big tech companies are now pairing maps with augmented reality-ready location data, including Meta, Google, Microsoft, Snap, and Meta, ahead of AR glasses plans.

And after

Niantic is working with a wave of developers on phone apps that will soon take advantage of the new tools.

Niantic, creator of Pokemon Go, joins a trend with its latest real-world location crowdsourcing initiative using phones. The news, announced at Niantic’s first developer conference for its AR-based Lightship platform this week, is another step towards the company’s goal of linking its various games and apps into a common social platform, creating “reality channels” that will work with future smart glasses.

The same way your local neighborhood probably has a community Pokestops and sports halls, imagine that but for a universe of games and services connected to AR, or augmented reality. Niantic’s new world-mapping technology leverages community and crowdsourced analytics to create a global map that future phone apps can build on — and, eventually, AR glasses too. Announced Tuesday at its first developer conference for a wave of augmented reality-connected apps using the company’s Lightship platform, Niantic’s new visual positioning system shows where many augmented reality developers are right now: seek out a global grid to create massively collaborative work localization experiences.

A man holding his phone in front of a lion statue with grid lines on it

Niantic’s real-world scan doesn’t need lidar on phones, but creates depth maps.


For the AR glasses of the future to work in a useful way, there will have to be maps of the real world that the glasses can interact with and understand. Niantic, the company behind Pokemon Go, is one of many companies now focusing on mapping to create an underlay of location points and scans of real-world locations on which virtual objects can properly overlay. and which will remain in place for others to find.

Niantic is far from the only company working on world mapping for AR: Snap is scanner of cities. So are Apple, Google, Microsoft and Meta. While Niantic performs its own city analysis to integrate a number of locations into its own global map data, the company is doing something unique by leveraging community-provided analytics to create other locations. .

Heatmap showing primarily lit locations south of Shinjuku and north of Minato

One of Niantic’s heatmaps of available locations, Tokyo.


Niantic also performs its own city-based location analysis in Tokyo, New York, the San Francisco Bay Area, London, Seattle, and Los Angeles. But the company is also looking at “heatmaps” of the already popular player locations of its Pokemon Go games and Entrance as signs of where to build more location-scanned territories in the future. Meanwhile, if developers want to add locations in unmapped areas, they can do so through Niantic’s new Wayfarer app, which submits scans of new locations.

According to the company, there are already 30,000 AR game and app ready locations on Niantic’s VPS map, with many of these locations deliberately scattered across public places and parks. There are ways to delete an already submitted location in case someone doesn’t want their own property to be part of the VPS mapping, which apparently works the same way people can delete Pokemon Go waypoints.

three phone screens showing virtual images overlaid on city scenes

Some examples of real-world AR in Niantic’s platform, via developer Pixelynx.


While Niantic already has plans with Qualcomm to work on the future AR glasses, the technology is still phone-based at the moment, like with the Pokemon Go game, where players hold their phones in places to see virtual objects superimposed on their screens. Ultimately, the goal is for these world-mapped AR games to work between phones and glasses, discoverable in what Niantic CEO John Hanke calls “reality warps.”

A social network developed by Niantic, called Campfire, wants to be the cement between these different applications on the VPS grid. Events and discussions will take place in Campfire while games and live experiences happen nearby, and Campfire will be a kind of local way to find out what’s going on that you might want to know. In a way, it’s like Discord for AR.

Persistent, layered AR in the real world is already underway through phone apps, and Niantic is forming more partnerships with developers working in these spaces, including recently announced investments in meditation app Tripp and the company of Pixelynx musical games. Immersive theater company Punchdrunk, creator of Sleep No More and The burnt citystill has one undisclosed project in development with Niantic as well.


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