John Hanke, Niantic top honcho and creator of the mobile game hit Pokémon GO, seems to spark a virtual reality (VR)-augmented reality (AR) rivalry as he claimed in a recent pronouncement that the latter is the better option.
AR can be considered the opposite of VR technology in the sense that instead of transporting people to a virtual world, it takes virtual objects into the real world.
For this reason, Hanke thinks that AR is more interesting and promising not just for the technology field itself but also for humans in general. He maintained this position while stressing the philosophy that guides Niantic Labs and its products.
"From the very beginning, our games were about encouraging people to go outside and see interesting places," Hanke said in a Recode interview. "So [I have] mixed feelings about people looking at their screen while we're trying to lead them out into the park where they can see the statue and trees and nature."
To put this in another way, Niantic aims to create games and technologies that would keep people from the couch and their homes and proceed on engaging them with the world. This is demonstrated in the Pokémon GO game where players go out to hunt for monsters, traveling to new places and also meeting people along the way.
Niantic's preference for augmented reality and its position on games seem to be validated by the immense popularity of the Pokémon GO mobile app. Its players began from zero to millions in a short period of time since its release. The game has trounced popular apps such as Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat in terms of daily usage and user engagement. Around 50 million are said to have played monthly this summer alone. And these players keep playing daily, staying far longer than the time they spend on social media.
The unprecedented popularity of Pokémon GO has naturally attracted interest, particularly from investors. Nintendo's shares, for instance, surged after Pokémon GO's release (although they immediately fell after investors realized Nintendo is not making the game). While Niantic is still a privately held company and has, therefore, no stocks that investors can buy, there are enterprising financiers who manage to come up to the company and offer to fund its game development initiatives.
An expected inflow of cash could allow Niantic to develop Pokémon GO further and AR technology along with it. This can already be demonstrated in what appears to be plans to build AR eyeglasses that will overlay AR games and virtual objects seamlessly into the real world. According to Hanke, those glasses do not exist yet but Niantic is exploring it further as part of what he called as interim steps. These steps already include tangible hardware such as the Pokémon GO Plus accessory, which was recently released.