Seven years ago, the mobile game Pokémon Go took the world by storm, and now its creators want to bring the same “real-world” appeal to their new basketball game. While Pokémon Go players were guided from their cellphones to real-world locations to collect magical creatures, NBA All-World allows players to challenge each other to games on the street.
John Hanke, the head of Niantic, which produces both games, emphasizes that just like Pokemon, players of the NBA game only need a mobile phone – no expensive VR headsets or glasses.
He pushes this hybrid game as a “real world metaverse,” distinguishing it from the experience of users sitting at home with masks on their faces promoted by Microsoft and others.
“I think it’s important to support what we do as people in the real world, like going out to restaurants, meeting our friends and not staying at home,” he told AFP in an interview.
“Putting on a VR headset myself is a very lonely and scary future for me. I hope humanity doesn’t go in that direction.”
In NBA All-World, out this week in France and next Tuesday worldwide, players choose their favorite NBA star as their avatar and can meet and compete against others on the streets.
The social aspect of gaming, Hanke said, made mobile phones the perfect device for gaming.
“It’s portable, inexpensive and almost everyone has one,” he said.
Niantic hopes to make money from microtransactions – players can spend small amounts on virtual items that will help them move through the game faster, or customize their avatars with sneakers from brands like Adidas or Puma.
Hanke acknowledges that the success of “Pokemon Go” has helped Niantic onboard top-tier corporate partners.
“The success of ‘Pokemon Go’ certainly helps us,” he said.
Today, Pokemon Go is a cultural phenomenon with more than a billion downloads and has generated around $1 billion a year since its launch in July 2016, according to estimates by analytics firm Sensor Tower.
But Niantic hasn’t been able to produce another hit that even comes close to that level.
And it had notable flops.
It launched Harry Potter: Wizards Unite in 2019, only to have it canceled last January due to a lack of interest.
Like many other companies in the tech sector, Niantic has slashed its workforce drastically over the past year, cutting 8 percent of its workforce and halting four video game projects.
With that in mind, Hanke downplays any suggestion that his latest game could achieve Pokemon success.
“Pokemon Go surprised the world as the very first game of its kind, in my opinion,” said the Niantic boss.
“Maybe another game we develop in the future will have the same instant viral success, but that’s probably not a realistic expectation because it’s a pretty unusual case.”
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and was published by a syndicated feed.)
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