Ian Hetherington is CEO of eeGeo.
Nintendo and Niantic’s Pokemon GO is the biggest game of 2016.
One of the largest video game franchises is finally available for smartphones, and the result is an incredibly well-designed, massively popular app. Pokemon GO’s constituent parts make it run so flawlessly.
It has a comprehensive map courtesy of Google; a legacy IP license with a loyal following and an ideal character structure courtesy of Nintendo; ample funding courtesy of both companies; and domain knowledge, core engineering talent and understanding of virality from Niantic.
New genre of gaming
The last few years in mobile gaming have been pretty stale, with many developers trying to replicate the success of Clash of Clans and others.
Pokemon GO, on the other hand, seamlessly blends the embedded familiarity of the Pokemon characters beloved by many a ‘90s kid with the fresh new mode of public, mobile play.
The game has helped define the wide adoption of a new class of gaming. Thanks to Pokemon GO, the genre of augmented reality gaming has emerged as a lasting contender for people’s attention.
While AR gaming has been chased for some time by many designers, Pokemon GO is the first game that’s able to successfully deliver a captivating experience via this platform, and the first game that’s able to engage and energise the consumer about this style of gameplay.
What we might expect next is a funding splurge, with money flowing into any creative venture with “AR” in the title.
When any new successful entertainment experience comes to market - especially one as wildly successful and record-breaking as Pokemon GO that no one saw it coming - there will inevitably be many follow-on solutions looking to provide a similar experience with a slightly new spin.
There will also be many venture capitalists competing to find and fund these solutions. It’s a matter of when (not if) we will see an influx of Pokemon GO-like games that leverage its features.
Emulation with a twist
A trap that publishers can fall into, however, is thinking that they can paste their IP onto an AR game the likes of Pokemon GO and instantly achieve success.
A trap that publishers can fall into is thinking they can paste their IP onto an AR game like Pokemon GO and instantly achieve success.
Instead of this copycat approach, iteration and innovation is needed to engage more consumers and move the AR gaming genre forward.
Developers should see Pokemon GO as an opening up of new possibilities in AR gaming rather than an exact product pro-forma.
Introducing VR to the scene
Pokemon GO has opened up other realms of mobile gaming outside of AR, especially VR. Niantic is even rumored to be optimising their next game to be compatible with Cardboard VR.
VR will expand the genre by allowing players to interact while not being physically present. In essence, VR closes the interaction loop opened up by AR gaming.
While AR has allowed players to compete with one another in real world locations with a device that’s always on them and Pokemon GO has broken down social barriers and validated that players are willing to interact with each in a more physical way, extending the game to VR means that real world interactions can occur in tandem with digital interactions.
This merging of interactions occurs when set within an enhanced model of the real world, or a more compelling map creating a greater sense of immersion.
With a mixture of VR and AR, players can compete at the same Pokemon Gyms, for example, in person as well as digitally.
Imagine a Pokemon battle happening in Times Square, with players competing in person while others 'teleport in' to be a part of the same gaming event.
Imagine a Pokemon battle happening in Times Square, with players competing in person while others 'teleport in'.
Introducing VR to AR gaming can ring in the next generation of Pokemon GO-like games that marry real-world and digital interactions.
But these new games need deeper technology than Google maps and overlaid UI to enhance the user experience and immersive play. Designers using VR need an engaging play environment that is optimised for both AR “presence” and VR “tele-presence”.
Google may have a hard time delivering these capabilities through Streetview and Google Earth. What can be introduced as a more compelling solution is an enhanced geometrically accurate model of the real world: 3D mapping.
By tapping into the power of 3D mapping for improved user experience, developers will be able to create games that integrate AR and VR’s distinctive viewpoints.
Dynamic 3D outdoor maps
In the current Pokemon GO experience, an avatar traverses in a flat Google map, overlaid with a UI to reveal Pokemon activity.
Imagine setting this in a videogame-like model of the real world with accurate geography and geometry. Rendering these gameplay elements into an interactive mapping environment makes the gaming experience more seamless and engaging.
Currently, it it’s not possible to show a Pokemon GO avatar inside a building, and it looks as if the avatar is pasted over the building. The concept of indoor space is missing - there are no indoor maps.
Interactive indoor mapping presents a new, scalable world that will allow players to navigate building interiors floor-by-floor of a mall, university campus, office block etc. With more intuitive 3D visualisations and accurate indoor positioning, it is much easier for designers to create mixed reality experiences.
Let us not underestimate the commercial potential for this genre of gaming. Indoors is where the real commercial potential for AR/VR gaming lies, guiding people to new places and gathering people to new spots.
3D building map APIs unlock a whole range of AR and VR experiences, allowing retailers, hotels and other destinations to offer their guests entirely new ways of exploring and socialising, while also playing a game.
This potential connection with retailers will also open up a new way for these AR/VR games to gain advertisers and revenue.
More than smartphones
Right now, Pokemon GO is optimised for smartphone use. While smartphone use is still surging in popularity, the next generation of Pokemon GO should be designed for smartphones and other device form factors.
The next generation of Pokemon GO can straddle AR and the exciting capabilities of VR.
More sophisticated mapping platforms offer cross-platform SDKs that help developers not only build apps for iOS and Android, but also for Windows, OSX, WebGL, Google Cardboard, Oculus Rift and browsers.
With a wider device universe and augmented gameplay styles, these games can cast an even wider net of users and uses cases than Pokemon GO and encourages better AR/VR integration.
The next generation
With a feature set that can be used for Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard and other VR hardware, the next generation of Pokemon GO can straddle AR and the exciting capabilities of VR.
Mapping technology expands possibilities for developers seeking to create the next Pokemon GO experience.
While Pokemon GO currently owns the monster-catching-smartphone-game slot that uses AR and Google Maps technology, there is a much greater opportunity to create games that are just as loved outside of that niche.
Developers will contemplate how they can take the core underlying treasure hunting element and AR experience and put their own spin on it using VR.
With the help of sophisticated 3D mapping technology, real-world gaming experiences will be improved for both developers and gamers, and the next generation of Pokemon GO will go beyond just chasing monsters.