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Pokémon GO Steps on the Mobile AR Gas

By Quinten Plummer
Sep 17, 2015 3:43 PM PT
pokemon-go-nintendo-niantic-mobile-augmented-reality

Nintendo and The Pokémon Company teamed up with former Google game studio Niantic on an augmented reality project, complete with a wearable Poké Ball that just might be the next best thing to filling Pokédex with pocket monsters. The trio announced Pokémon GO late last week.

Nintendo brought its publishing power, The Pokémon Company committed its intellectual property, and Niantic supplied its augmented reality gaming platform for the new game: Pokémon GO.

Pokémon GO players will have the opportunity to catch, trade and battle Pokémon characters wandering the wilds of the real world when the game launches on iOS and Android next year.

The gang of game makers set out to create a mobile experience that "expressed the core values of Pokémon," said Tsunekazu Ishihara, CEO of The Pokémon Company.

"Pokémon GO is the answer to that challenge," he added.

The Pokémon company previously released a trading card game for iOS devices. However, Pokémon GO takes the core Pokémon experience and builds it out into an experience that has a solid chance of attracting newcomers to the franchise, said Christine Arrington, senior analyst of games at IHS Technology.

"Bringing the property out of the Nintendo environment to iOS and Google Play exposes Pokémon to exponentially more potential players than ever before," she told TechNewsWorld.

The Reality of AR Adoption

Leveraging augmented reality for Pokémon GO's core gameplay may produce notable success. However, it could be an isolated case, with mobile AR games failing to come anywhere close to broad acceptance.

The outlook for AR in general is "fairly cautious," said Arrington. The first crop of AR games released in the mid-2000s didn't exactly catch on and failed to inspire consumers to believe that the technology was ready.

Things have changed, though. Smartphones have changed.

"Niantic has been quite successful in attracting a dedicated following for Ingress," Arrington said. "Now they have a very well-known property, with a huge nostalgia factor, people who are familiar with the AR hide-and-seek games from the 2000s, and years of experience with their own game."

Niantic's rising profile has placed it in position to find success with yet another AR game, she suggested. "However, that doesn't mean everyone who jumps on the bandwagon and produces copycat games will see the same potential."

Mobile AR and VR

Niantic's latest augmented reality game appeared as unexpectedly as a wild Pokémon -- especially considering Google had just sheared off the company, leaving it to stand alone inside holdings company Alphabet.

Though Niantic is the only major player in the mobile AR space, the sector has a solid chance of becoming mainstream and could have more success that mobile VR did early on, observed Iowa State University's Eliot Winer, associate director of the university's Virtual Reality Applications Center.

"AR allows people to interact with real and virtual objects," he pointed out. "This provides a sense of familiarity and security that users like."

There is a broader range of devices that can support mobile AR apps, Winer told TechNewsWorld. On top of that, mobile AR doesn't require nearly as much graphical processing power as mobile VR software. Camera apps are relatively lightweight nowadays.

"Mobile VR still needs to provide better and better graphics, sound, and some touch -- such as rumble pads -- to truly takeoff," he said. "However, in looking at how gaming systems have progressed over the last 15-20 years, I think it is achievable. So, while I give the edge to mobile AR, mobile VR is right there also."


Quinten Plummer is a longtime technology reporter and an avid PC gamer who explored local news for a few years, covering law enforcement and government beats, before returning to writing about things run by ones and zeros and the people who make them. If it pushes pixels or improves lives, he wants to learn all he can about it.


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