Those of you who haven’t been living under a rock for the last little while will have heard of Pokemon Go, an upcoming augmented reality game for mobile phones developed by Niantic, scheduled to be released in 2016 for iOS and Android devices.
It promises to fulfill our dreams of traveling the world, catching and trading for Pokemon. That being said, there are A LOT of questions about how exactly it will work.
Well, GamesBeat did an interview with one of the developers – John Hanke – that revealed a lot of tasty information about the upcoming game, especially in what the developers have learned from Ingress that they plan to implement into Pokemon Go.
For example, Ingress has two teams that compete with each other. Various teams are already part of the Pokemon lore, and it appears that Pokemon Go is already slated to have “more than two.” That certainly has to be very exciting for some people.
Niantic has spun off from Google as a separate startup – with funding from Google, Nintendo, and The Pokémon Company. It raised $30 million in the process. It has moved into a new headquarters in San Francisco. Niantic has just 41 employees, but it’s hard at work on turning Pokémon Go into a reality.
John Hanke: We’re super excited to have Nintendo and the Pokémon Company on board. It was a real thrill for me to be on stage with Mr. Miyamoto in Japan when we announced it. It was great to see his enthusiasm for the project.
The former CEO of Nintendo, Mr. Iwata, had his hand on the wheel. He was steering Nintendo in a new direction. Part of that was the partnership with DeNA, the mobile game company. They have new hardware in the pipeline that they’ve been working on. He saw the need and personally wanted to help evolve Nintendo. They resisted mobile for a long time. But it’s clear their relationships with us and with DeNA that they now understand how relevant it is to the future.
Mike Quigley: After an Ingress event in Japan, the Pokémon Company guys went out to dinner and drinks with us. All Mr. Masuda wanted to do was bend our ears and talk about Ingress features. He and John were practically having a game design meeting.
Hanke: He advises us on game design for Pokémon and helps make sure that we keep true to the franchise, the history of all the handheld games they’ve done. They’re so excited about this as a new version of the game that’s never been done before. It’s not like it’s just another rev of the handheld game. This is a Pokémon experience that’s brand new, and yet it goes back to the very origin of the franchise. It’s about a kid who goes out in the world and finds Pokémon. If you strip away a lot of the complexity and stuff that’s been added on, it’s the most basic expression of that concept.
Hanke: We’ve learned a lot on those fronts with Ingress. Even if you’re in a small town — I grew up in a town of 1,000 people in Texas. We had that as a design goal. If we’re going to build a game that works with location, it has to be fun for people anywhere to play, in small towns as well as San Francisco. If we designed something that only worked in San Francisco, it wouldn’t be a real success. We wanted it to work globally.
Hanke: You do things like enabling asynchronous play. If someone passes through that town on a trip to somewhere else, they interact with the locations there. That makes the place feel alive, even if you didn’t match with them head-to-head. The linking game in Ingress, where you link from one city to another to form big fields, means that what people might be doing in very small, remote locations is still critical to the global game. We’ll find that a town in rural Mississippi all of a sudden has a global spotlight on it because it’s an anchor for one of these big fields.
Hanke: I feel like we’ve learned a lot of lessons from Ingress that we’ll bring to Pokémon. We’ll make sure you can play it everywhere.
Hanke: Our goal is to make it so you can walk out of the house and within five minutes, you can find Pokémon. It may not be the most rare Pokémon in the world, but there’ll be a population of Pokémon living near all our players. Gyms will be a bit more rare. You want to find gyms so you can level up your Pokémon and battle there, so it will take a little more effort to get there.
Hanke: Pokémon will live in different parts of the world depending on what type of Pokémon they are. Water Pokémon will live near the water. It may be that certain Pokémon will only exist in certain parts of the world. Very rare Pokémon may exist in very few places. But you can trade. If you live in a place with lots of water Pokémon and you come to an event — we have these Ingress events that are getting bigger and bigger. We’ll have our biggest weekend ever on Saturday.
Hanke: We’ll have events for Pokémon as well. Those are competitive, but they can also be places to trade stuff with other players. Pokémon trading is going to be huge. You can’t get all of them by yourself. If you want all of them you’ll have to trade with other players. Or you have to be someone who takes time off work and travels the world for a year. There may be people who do that.
Hanke: This is the first time there will be a real Pokémon experience on a mobile phone. You know the numbers as far as the installed base of the DS market and the 3DS market. Compare it to the installed base for smartphones worldwide. Now Pokémon is available to, what, 100 times more people in terms of market potential?
Hanke: And there are markets where they don’t even sell Nintendo hardware, because the price point and distribution doesn’t work out – India, for example, or Brazil – but there’s surging smartphone usage. We see Ingress players in India, Brazil, Sri Lanka, Malaysia. Pokémon may be known through the animation or the cards, but people haven’t had the chance to play the games before. They’ll be able to play the games for the first time. It builds on Ingress, but it’s a much bigger opportunity.
Hanke: Why not have a little device that buzzes when you’re near something important? You can interact with it in some subtle way, and then later on you can open up your app or your tablet and you see, “Oh, I got this or did that.” That was one of the influences.
Hanke: They’re putting the number two video game franchise of all time in the hands of this project.
Hanke: The game is what’s important, though. We’ve seen this with platforms throughout the history of video games. It’s about what’s fun in the game and creating new and fun game experiences. The hardware enables that, but it’s not about the hardware. It’s about the experience enabled through it. It’s understanding, for any piece of hardware, what it does that the hardware before it couldn’t, and how you make a game that takes advantage of that.
Hanke: That’s what we’re focused on. We’re trying to anticipate that and make sure we’re on a solid footing, make sure we’re writing our games for the smartphones that exist today, but absolutely being ready to take advantage of new hardware in the future.
Hanke: The cool thing about it being an MMO environment — EVE would be another example — is that the game is this game state that exists on the server. Today millions of people are interacting with Ingress. Tens of millions of people will interact with Pokémon Go. You can have differentiated client experiences that interface into that same game world.
Hanke: It’s not like we’ll have that ramp up at the beginning of a hardware cycle where only so many people have the device and it’s hard to get critical mass. That’s not a big problem here.
GamesBeat: Ingress has all these interesting social goals, like getting people to visit and understand public monuments or get more exercise outside. Does Pokémon Go share some of those?
Hanke: Those are core to everything we do. The places that you’ll interact with in the real world — historical sites, artwork, prominent or special local businesses, those will play a role in Pokémon Go just as they would for us. That same mechanic of encouraging people to take a walk in the park and see some aspect of their city they haven’t seen before, to go explore a nook or cranny in a part of the city they haven’t been to before so they can get a new Pokémon, that will be at work. Measuring how far people have walked and all of that will have specific payoffs for players in Pokémon Go.
Quigley: I would say those are more Niantic values than Ingress values. Those are things John has always championed.
Hanke: It’s what makes what we do worthwhile. It has this awesome effect on people. That benefit creates this appreciation amongst our players that is the reason we have this incredible global community. It’ll help us grow a similar community for Pokémon Go. People feel better. They meet other people and have fun together. It’s great thing to build a business around.
GamesBeat: Are the live events something you’d do right off the bat with Pokémon?
Hanke: We haven’t announced yet, but I’d say that given the success we’ve had with Ingress, it’s a pretty safe bet.
GamesBeat: What about the one side versus the other that’s central to Ingress? How do you create a similar enthusiasm in Pokémon?
Hanke: There will be teams to join in Pokémon, more than two. Those teams will compete against one another.
GamesBeat: The sort of thing that exists within the fiction already.
Hanke: Yeah, with different gyms and teams and trainers.
GamesBeat: That’s something going on somewhat in Ingress already, although it’s still more directed.
Hanke: It’s directed in that there is a fiction, a story we tell in every quarter as part of the event series. The players shape the direction that fiction goes. We follow along behind by canonizing parts of that in the books and comics and so on. I would expect there to be a narrative along with Pokémon, but some of that stuff we’re still working out.
GamesBeat: Do you feel like this is almost an eSport?
Hanke: It’s even better than a sport in some ways. League of Legends, you have your big tournament and everyone shows up at the Staples Center and you watch the high-powered teams play each other. When we bring 6,000 people together in Okinawa, every one of them is playing. It’s different from 6,000 people coming to watch a soccer game. It’s a mass game.
A live Ingress Event in Oakland, California
Hanke: Everyone is a player. It’s more participatory. I think of it as more like a 5K run, something like that. Everybody comes to a 5K. It’s accessible. Everyone participates. There’s a bit of a competitive element to it. But there’s not a decision between the players and watchers, between the elite and everyone else. It’s a team thing. Whenever you show up as part of a team, you get assigned to a squad. You’ll have orders about where to go and what to do. Everybody strives to beat the other team.
Hanke: It’s awesome to see in person, if you ever have a chance to make it out to one of the events. They have chat going on. You have earpieces for the squad leaders. There’s almost a military feel to it, but at the same time people are smiling and laughing and enjoying being outside. It doesn’t have that — I read recently about two guys getting in a fight at an eSports event in Europe. Ingress doesn’t have that. At the end everyone’s together and it’s one big party.
Hanke: It’s competitive, but I think the fact that it’s fighting over portals — I’m not fighting to kill you. That makes this a little different. But I do think eSports — that whole concept has huge legs. Sports have legs. People like to play games and the best opponent is another human being, not an AI. Sometimes you may want to immerse yourself in a narrative, solo-play, adventure kind of game. Those can be cool. But competition against other humans, facilitated by computers that let us do things we can’t with just a bat and a ball — it’s absolutely the future.
GamesBeat: Do you guys see a particular path to becoming something like World of Warcraft? I see no limit on how big this could get, beyond the number of devices out there.
Hanke: I think we can be bigger than World of Warcraft. There are more mobile devices than gaming-configured PCs out there.
Follow the link to find the full article! Be prepared…it’s quite a lengthy read.