Learn More about Niantic, Inc, Makers of Pokemon Go

Pokemon Go in Los Angeles
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Niantic, Inc has been in the news a lot lately. The company introduced the hugely popular Pokémon Go game, a location-based mobile app. It's a huge win for a company that has only existed since October 2015. So what is Niantic and what is the connection to Google?

The Restructuring of Google and Birth of Niantic 

Niantic was spun out of Google in October 2015 as its own, independent company.  Niantic's announced independence came three days after Google announced a major restructuring.

Google created a parent company, Alphabet. Alphabet then owns several child companies, including Google, Inc. Google gets Android, Google search, Android, YouTube, Gmail, Maps, and AdSense. The core things we've always thought of as being essentially Google. Alphabet also owns:

  • Google Fiber - a high-speed internet service provider
  • Google X - what they call "moonshots" or highly experimental ideas 
  • Google Ventures - venture capital for other company's experiments
  • Google Capitol - long term tech investments
  • Nest - connected home products

Given that structure, Niantic, a game company, no longer made sense as part of Google's broader strategy. The company spun out, but it still had significant financial backing from Google.  

Niantic's Leadership

Niantic, Inc is run by John Hanke, who has a long history with geolocation apps. John Hanke began his journey with Google with a desktop software app called Earth Viewer for a company he founded called Keyhole, Inc.

Google acquired Keyhole (and John Hanke) and renamed the software Google Earth. John Hanke then worked in product management for Google's "Geo" products, such as Google Earth, Google Maps, Sketchup (a 3D design app which was later sold). 

While at Google, Hanke was encouraged to play with game mechanics within Google Earth and then to develop the game Ingress.

 

Niantic's Products

Niantic makes three products as of this writing. 

Field Trip 

Field Trip is Niantic's first app and was written while the company was part of Google. Field Trip is available for Android or iOS. Field Trip is essentially a mobile tour guide, showing you highlights and historical facts for locations. The information is culled from multiple sources, including Aradia Publishing, Thrillist, and Zagat. 

Ingress

Ingress is a mobile game available for Android or iOS. Ingress was Niantic's second app and released while Niantic was still part of Google.  However, this game shows the bones of Pokémon Go. In fact, the augmented reality portion of both games takes advantage of the same geographic features. Pokémon gyms and Ingress portals are usually in the same location. 

The basic plot of Ingress divides players into two teams, The Enlightened and The Resistance. Each side has chosen how to react to a mysterious new energy source discovered in Europe. Embrace it or fight it. The two teams compete to acquire virtual items and hack geographically located portals to use for the advantage of each team. The app gives players periodic virtual updates on in-game news and events. 

Although Ingress and Pokémon share geographic features, the two games do not share a single look and feel.

Some consider Ingress to be "PokémonGo for grownups."  Ingress was originally released as a coveted beta for Android, and it quickly gained a following of devoted players. Although Ingress does not have the raw popularity of Pokémon Go, it is still an addictive game with a large, devoted following. One Google employee noted at the time that users were getting Ingress logo tattoos. That's some serious devotion. 

Ingress is free to download but makes money through in-game micro-transactions. Players can purchase items that give them a small advantage in gameplay, although the same items can also be obtained without purchase.

 

Pokémon Go

Pokémon Go is Niantic's third app, available for Android and iOS. 

Using many of the same game mechanics from Ingress, Pokémon Go was an instant, record-breaking, runaway hit. Pokémon Go is the most popular mobile game to date, beating Candy Crush. People are also actively using the app rather than just installing it. As of this writing, Pokémon Go has more active daily users than Twitter or Facebook, and close to 6% of all Android users have installed it. 

When you go to a park or other public area, there is a good chance that will see both children and adults sitting or casually walking while playing Pokémon. Players can both be alone or in groups to play. In most cases, a monster visible to one player is visible to all players in the area and are available for simultaneous collection by all players who can see it. This ability for all players to share in the bounty of a Pokémon "hunt" has fostered meetups and group outings. 

Basic Pokémon Go Gameplay

Pokémon Go uses the plot from the popular Pokémon children's entertainment series. Pokemon began as a video game for Nintendo in 1996. "Pokémon" stands for "pocket monster" and usually involves some variation of "trainers" capturing rare monsters inside specially designed Poké balls and then training them to fight each other in battles.

In Pokémon Go, each player is a trainer and can throw Poké balls at monsters, which are randomly generated. Pokéstops are at fixed locations. When a player is near a Pokéstop, they can swipe their phone screen to "spin" the stop and acquire random items, such as more Pokéballs.

Capturing monsters, spinning Pokéstops, and other activities gain the player experience points that can increase their level. After level five, players choose from one of three teams (not the two of Ingress) and can battle each other inside of Pokégyms at fixed geographic locations. Battle winners gain experience points and gain coins. Coins can be used to purchase items. You can also skip the gym fighting and purchase virtual coins with real money through Google Play or Apple. 

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