Niantic Explains How Pokémon Go Came To Be, Locations, And Item Distribution



Niantic and The Pokémon Company are working together for a new smartphone game, Pokémon Go, which plays like Ingress with location-based technology, but with a Poké-touch. Niantic CEO John Hanke recently spoke with VentureBeat about the upcoming smartphone title. [Thanks, GoNintendo.]


On How the project came to be:


Hanke: It was driven in large part by Mr. Ishihara and the Pokémon Company. They’ve been involved in developing all the Pokémon games through the years. They guide the IP. But a lot of what they do is through partnerships. They partnered initially with Wizards of the Coast to bring out the Pokémon card game, which has now sold something like 21 billion cards. They have animation partners who do the TV show. They’re a partnering type of company. Mr. Ishihara ushered us into the halls at Nintendo.


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.


On the challenges of making a location-based game, socially connected or non-connected areas, and if it’s worth traveling far to find something:


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.


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.


There’s an incentive for teams to find obscure places to anchor their portals, in fact. There are fewer attackers on the other team to take them out. It’s a defense, like security through obscurity. You try to grab something that’s far away from everywhere else. That means, at that point in time, that people playing in that area all of a sudden are on the global stage.


This idea of moving keys around — you get a key from a portal. You need the key to make a link. People are ferrying these around like they’re muling drugs. They’re transporting them from person to person. That means, if you want to get them from New York to San Francisco, they may transit several places in between. It stitches the whole world together into the global game.


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.


On Distributing different items and things in the game:


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.


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.


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.


You can read more on the full interview over at VentureBeat.

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