Three Years of Ingress and the Road for Niantic
VR vs. AR and what it means for games like Pokémon GO
Wow. 2015 was a busy year for Niantic and one filled with some memorable challenges and triumphs for the team. Some of the highlights that stick out for me were mingling with more than 6,000 Ingress players at a massive Ingress event in historic Kyoto in the heart of cherry blossom season, winning the Game Designers Grand Prize at the Tokyo Game Show, announcing Pokémon GO with our new partners in Japan, closing our financing and spinning out of Google, and setting up our new offices and operations in four countries around the world.
It was absolutely amazing to watch the Ingress community continue to evolve through the course the year, many reaching spectacular heights — managing to launch a couple of ‘Ingress babies’ along with amazing Operations literally spanning the globe. We rolled into our three year anniversary topping 14M downloads and seeing the largest number of active players in the game’s history.
Agents didn’t just download the game. They immersed themselves in it at levels dwarfing past years, for example walking more than 258 million kilometers while playing Ingress in 2015. That’s nearly double the distance that players covered in 2014. Our Ingress Anomaly events series saw three times the number of attendees in 2015, bringing 254,184 people of all ages, cultures, and backgrounds together at real world meet ups that synced up around the world.
As I look toward Pokémon GO and beyond, I am as excited as I was on day one about how the idea of ‘Real World’ games can help us meet new people and forge connections in our home towns and around the world while also giving us a nudge to stay active and explore those less travelled paths, in our backyard and sometimes far beyond.
Is 2016 the year of VR? AR? I don’t love those labels because I think they understate the revolution happening in what people have traditionally called ‘games’ by casting the coming innovation as a single device or piece of technology. Video games and computer games have now become cornerstones of entertainment. To compare game sales numbers or minutes spent playing games to TV or movies is pointless. The result is obvious, even as innovators like Twitch merge them in new ways. And now some awesome new technology is making its way in the hands of users and inspiring the minds of developers, stuff people are calling VR, AR, MR, and a bunch of other invented acronyms. At one level you could say that all of it is an outgrowth of the smartphone revolution — tiny powerful processors, amazing displays, sensors of all kinds, robust location and mapping technology — all now made cheap, reliable and ubiquitous. I think we are going to see those basic building blocks refactored into all kinds of new hardware that will be exploited to blur the lines between games, cinema, apps, fitness and even navigation and commerce. I am not going to predict what the ‘winning’ hardware formula will be (in a sense we are all going to win as consumers and gamers by having a slew of innovative experiences to sample and enjoy) but I would bet on things that are more phone-like than PC-like. The future of technology will be one where it accompanies us everywhere and is there to enhance, enrich, and sometimes transform our lives on demand. Games and entertainment will be at the center of that.
It’s going to be a fun year. We are looking forward to seeing all kinds of innovation unfold and, perhaps more importantly, using it to populate the world with a few million Pokémon and then sitting back to watch what happens.