Augmented reality gaming pioneer and Pokémon GO mastermind Niantic is putting the pieces on the gameboard to prepare developers and gamers for the launch of its AR cloud platform.
Announced in June 2018, the Niantic Real World Platform would enable multiplayer experiences, persistent content, and real-world occlusion for mobile AR apps created by Niantic or other developers.
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On Wednesday, the company announced that it is accepting applications to its Creator Program, which will give first access to the Niantic Real World Platform to participating developers in 2020. The Creator Program also offers participants learning opportunities for developing and publishing their apps.
"We view AR as a sea of opportunity and we can't navigate these waters alone. We know developers are key to creating the new kinds of experiences that get people to explore and connect with the real world. Collaborating hand-in-hand with WB Games to create Harry Potter: Wizards Unite was just the first step in opening up the Niantic Real World Platform to more creative development minds," said Kellee Santiago, head of developer relations at Niantic, in a blog post.
One of the main benefits open to Creator Program participants is the Beyond Reality Fund, which will provide financial investments to the program's developers who need additional resources to realize their concepts.
The Creator Program, along with the Beyond Reality Fund, evolved from the Beyond Reality Developer Contest that Niantic kicked off in Dec. 2018.
JC Soft emerged as the winner of that contest based on its game Run to My Heart, with other participants including such notable names as HappyGiant and HItPoint Studios.
"Among our biggest takeaways from the Beyond Reality Contest was that we really can help developers of all kinds and spark a diversity of AR creations. We are aiming to do even more next year through our Niantic Creator Program," said Santiago. "We're looking forward to shaping the future of AR together with the many talented developer minds around the world and to create unique experiences the world has never seen before."
While these components act as the catalyst for growing its developer community, Niantic still has some technical work to do on the platform as well. The company has two other initiatives underway to generate more real-world locations that serve as points of interest for games built on the Real World Platform.
One of these programs is Niantic Wayfarer, a crowdsourcing program that enables high-level players to nominate points of interest for use in Niantic games. Originally announced in 2018, the program asks participants to submit photos and other information about the proposed locations.
The sibling to Wayfarer comes in the form of Sponsored Locations Early Access Beta, a program that expands availability for sponsored locations from large chains such as Starbucks and McDonalds to small businesses.
"The world is also made up of businesses that are a core part of everyday life. On a regular Saturday, for many of us, going out in the world more often than not means visiting businesses — from running errands at stores to visiting restaurants and other venues to socialize," said Carla Li, product lead for sponsorships at Niantic, in a blog post. "As we look to expand the gameboard to be even more relevant to our players' daily lives, these businesses, big and small, will play an integral role in blending the real and digital worlds together to bring magic and fun to more everyday moments — even running errands."
In addition to expanding points of interest for gamers and increasing foot traffic for participating businesses, Niantic expects that the location sponsorship will open up another revenue stream for developers as well. Also, Niantic will hide sponsored locations from underage players unless parental permission is given.
The program will launch in December, but interested businesses can apply for consideration now.
While Niantic has already deployed the core technology of the Real World Platform as part of the Ingress reboot, Pokémon GO, and Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, the company has not yet launched an app with the next-generation capabilities of the platform.
But it looks like a Niantic app will indeed be the first to utilize those advanced features. The company is working to turn the Pokémon GO concept into more of a shared experience as part of the original Real World announcement of the game's first multiplayer mode, and it's tentatively titled Buddy Adventure.
"The Pokémon GO Buddy Adventure feature will not only allow you to interact with your own Pokémon via the AR camera, it will also provide Trainers with a shared experience of seeing their real-world friends interacting with their Buddy Pokemon in real-time," said Diana Hu, director of AR platforms at Niantic. "Buddy Adventure is also cross-platform, so whether your friends are on an iPhone or Android device, you will still see them when the feature is enabled. Trainers worldwide can look forward to Buddy Adventure coming to Pokémon GO in the months ahead."
Hu is also the co-founder of Escher Reality. Niantic acquired Hu's company and its technology, a platform for persistent and shared AR, in February 2018. That technology, along with Hu and her team, has helped Niantic accelerate the development of the Real World Platform.
With competing AR cloud 6D.ai already giving developers the ability to release their apps into the wild, Niantic appears to be in the home stretch of getting its own flavor of shared AR experiences into the hands of gamers, with 2020 being a pivotal year for the debut of the platform.
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