Geo-Data Gets Gamefied In Niantic Labs’ Alliance With Nintendo On Pokemon Go

The company’s first game, Ingress, already has 7 million active users, and that’s without the global recognition of an IP like Pokemon.

Niantic Labs, a startup formerly part of Google, focuses on using location technology to create games and they’ve been wildly successful on that front so far. After the acclaim they received on their first game, Ingress, which tasks players with travelling to different real-world locations with their mobile devices to “capture” them, the company is now hard at work on what will likely be just as huge, if not larger, than Ingress with their partnership with Nintendo for Pokemon Go.

Ingress was a huge success when it debuted in 2012 exclusively on Android (and even more so in 2014 when an iOS version was released). Being one of the first location-based games to break through to the mainstream, Ingress saw over a million downloads in the first year, with many remaining active users long after initial installment, and now has over 7 million active users. The game sorts players into one of two factions and tasks them with “capturing” or checking in at various public locations – museums, malls, public works of art, etc. – and connecting them to locations captured by other players of the same team to form a controlled grid. Players from the opposing faction meanwhile are capturing their own locations and trying to take those captured by the first team.

The endless back-and-forth is addicting and rewarding for players, while encouraging them to go out and explore. But players aren’t the only ones who benefit from the game. Ingress is entirely free and is supported from paid, native placement by the featured locations, who pay for the opportunity to have their establishment turned into a control point for the players with the hope  of turning them into customers, something that has begun happening, the Niantic says.

Before Ingress, location-based games were around, but hardly on anyone’s radar. Many consider BotFighters, released in Sweden in 2001, to be the first location-based mobile game, and there have been others since, but none have caught fire quite like Ingress.

One particular fan of the game was Tsunekazu Ishihara, who happens to be the CEO of the Pokemon company. As a huge Ingress fan, he seized on the opportunity to pitch to the heads of Nintendo a mobile, location-based Pokemon game. They loved it and Ishihara soon got in touch with Niantic CEO John Hanke (former CEO of Keyhole before it became Google Earth) to lead development on the project.

That Nintendo is willing to partner with a western company, or to share in their intellectual property is atypical for the company. Nintendo has long been loved and hated alike by many for its reluctance to allow Nintendo games to be played on any device not created by Nintendo and for its insistence on developing most games playable on their devices and consoles entirely in-house. But the company seems to be opening up to the rest of the gaming and tech worlds recently, having announced their intention to branch out into the lucrative world of mobile games.

Pokemon Go is being developed by Niantic and Nintendo and will function similarly to Ingress. In fact, the natural way the Ingress system fit the hallmarks of Pokemon (exploring, capturing Pokemon, trading and battling with other players) was one of the main reasons Nintendo picked Niantic for the job.

Niantic Labs' John Hanke
Niantic Labs’ John Hanke

Hanke said in an interview with VentureBeat: “[Nintendo] saw Ingress as a perfect match for Pokémon. We were practically finishing each other’s sentences. Ingress, you conquer portals. Pokemon, obviously, you’d go out into the real world and find Pokemon and battle them against other players and trade them and go to gyms. That’s how it’s going to work.”

Ingress was already a huge appeal to advertisers and businesses that wanted to entice gamers into their brick-and-mortar stores, and that was without a globally recognized IP attached. Pokemon has been one of the best selling game franchises since it debuted in 1995. With the ravenous Pokemon fanbase ready to swell the numbers of the significant amount of Ingress players who might migrate to Niantic’s next game, Pokemon Go is shaping up to be a hit for players and marketers alike.

About The Author
Daniel Parisi Daniel Parisi @daniel_parisi_

Daniel Parisi is a New York City-based writer and recent graduate of the University of Maryland. Daniel specializes in coverage of mobile payments, loyalty programs, and the Internet of Things.