By Pramitha Krishnamurthy Prakash, Manager, Innovation Intelligence at CPA Global
The lifecycles of breakthrough technologies such as augmented reality (AR) are heavily reliant on mainstream take up. Many believed AR would initially be used by architects to visualise buildings and design companies for 3D graphic imagery. Yet its first major adoption saw more than 100 million people take to the streets to hunt Pokémon.
Evolving from a simple, location-based AR game into a cultural phenomenon, Pokémon Go was the most successful app launch of 2016.Approximately one in five 14-24 year olds installed Pokémon Go and it has been credited as ‘the most successful mobile game launch in history’. It captured the imagination of a new generation of game players by combining location awareness, exploration and much loved cartoon characters in a global treasure hunt.
Before launching Pokémon Go, its developer Niantic had experienced some success with another AR game called Ingress. Ingress used the same patented AR technology as Pokémon Go but was not a mainstream success.It did however act as a proof of concept and attracted the attention ofthe President of Nintendo, Satoru Iwata. A licencing deal was struck between, Nintendo, The Pokémon Company and Niantic. Suddenly, the Ingress app strategy was transformed with the addition of familiar Pokémon characters – Pokémon Go was born.
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What do Niantic’s patents tell us about the future of Pokémon Go?
The evolution of Pokémon Go – like many good ideas – is a combination of fixing things that go wrong and staying one step ahead of the competition.
To a certain extent Pokémon Go was a victim of its own success. When it was first released, such was the addiction to game play that there were reports of people playing while driving. To address this Niantic is developing a more sophisticated implementation of its underlying GPS technology. Depending on the rate of change of a user’s GPS coordinates, the new algorithm will determine whether a gamer is walking or driving. The application will then send a warning message to players who are moving quickly and ask them to confirm if they are a passenger in a vehicle or the individual driving.
A further issue with the success of the game was that thousands of users experienced failed logins due to server issues. Users vented their frustrations via social media and sites such as is pokemongodownornot.com were created to keep users up to date with technical failings. Niantic moved quickly to address these issues, reflected in the acquisition of U.S. Patent No. 9128789: “Executing Cross-Cutting Concerns for Client-Server Remote Procedure Calls.”
Mobile apps, particularly mobile games that are successful, are quickly copied. Popular games such as Angry Birds, Temple Run, Fruit Ninja and Candy Crush Saga have all generated significant revenues for their owners, but have quickly spawned hundreds of imitators. The challenge for Niantic is not simply to fix the existing app, but also evolve the app to encourage loyalty in a competitive marketplace.
One opportunity is to evolve the game into a platform that connects players more effectively. Pokémon Go does not currently have an in-app messaging service, but Niantic now ownsU.S. Patent No. 9226106: Systems and Methods for Filtering Communication Within a Location-Based Game. The patent discloses “a computer-implemented method of filtering communications for a location-based game by receiving communication data for a number of players, and filtering messages between them based on signals associated with each player, before adjusting the filtered communication data for each player based on constraints associated with each player.” It is likely that Pokémon Go’s future direction will be driven by increasing the connectivity of players, without jeopardising the game format and AR scenarios. This could see the platform evolve into something akin to a social network of gamers – adding a further element to game play and retaining the platform’s popularity.
What does the future hold for AR?
More widely, AR was the subject of 87 patent applications filed in the US in July alone. Once exclusive to technology enthusiasts, Pokémon Go has introduced AR to the masses. Not only is the technology capturing the attention of the public for the first time, the race to control it is being played out in IP. Niantic was one of the first to capitalise on the innovative new market for mobile gaming and has confirmed new AR technology will feature in updated versions of Pokémon Go.
What will Niantic do next? App development is a fickle business. For every Temple Run or Fruit Ninja there are thousands of games that have minimal downloads. By acquiring key AR patents and technologies, Niantic is likely looking beyond Pokémon Go. The opportunity exists for the company to build long term value by licencing and exploiting the IP it has generated to its competitors. Pokémon Go will not be the last AR game in app stores but, for Niantic, the growth of the AR market offers new opportunities.The future of AR is uncertain but with access to mainstream enthusiasts, the opportunities are endless.