XR Talks is a weekly series that features the best presentations and educational videos from the XR universe. It includes embedded video, as well as narrative analysis and top takeaways. Speakers’ opinions are their own.
One of XR’s key accelerants examined in our 2018 predictions was ‘unifying technologies.’ Also known as building blocks, these work towards democratizing advanced XR capability for developers. Examples include things like Google Blocks, Amazon Sumerian and Adobe Aero.
The most recent company to go down this road is Niantic, but in a slightly different way. The Pokemon Go and Ingress creator has turned its AR architecture into a platform on which others can build apps. This represents a possibly opportune model we’re calling “AR as a Service.”
Known as Real World Platform, it productizes the underlying code base for Niantic’s popular AR games. This not only achieves the democratization mentioned above, but does so in a way that’s similar to the biggest democratization tool the tech world has probably ever seen: AWS.
“AWS and GCP weren’t built as compute platforms for everybody,” said Niantic CTO Phil Kelsin at AWE in May (video below). “They were built to support the applications of Amazon and Google. Then they decided ‘we have excess capacity, let’s turn it into something that our users can use.’”
In the process of coming to this realization, Niantic also learned lots of transferrable lessons. For example, operating costs can really add up in running what it calls “planet-scale AR” (a good problem to have). So it had to get creative and find efficient ways to handle the scale of usage.
“Pokemon Go leveraged our key learnings from Ingress,” said Keslin. “Ingress showed that our games can be expensive to operate. We set a goal for ourselves to reduce that by 10x. We actually achieve 50x with Pokemon Go. Without that focus, Pokemon Go wouldn’t have survived.”
These and other learnings allowed it to not only ramp up to the right scale but also improve lots of qualitative aspects. Projecting that same trend forward, Niantic plans to take several learnings from Pokemon Go and apply them to doubling down on its forthcoming Harry Potter title.
“One of the things we had to do along the way was respond to player behavior and things that happened in the game,” said Keslin. “Network problems, system problems, and fixing those in real time. We’re going to take all of that and we’re going to pour it into Harry Potter Wizard Unite.”
Mapping is also a key area where Niantic has developed lots of aptitude. That’s obviously core to any location-oriented game or app. And based on its recent IP development and acquisitions, Niantic should soon have an even firmer grasp on underlying mapping and the AR Cloud.
“Pokemon are actually spawned because we know generally what’s at a particular location,” said Keslin. “There’s a map that describes that for us. That’s just one instance of the maps that you have to use in order to create these types of apps. It’s an understanding of the world around you.”
Altogether, there are several moving parts including network capacity, mapping and game mechanics. Now that Niantic has gotten proficient with all these moving parts, it’s logical to productize the whole thing as a platform. That way, developers can run with it and build cool stuff.
“Our mission statement is about getting people outside and exploring the world around them,” said Keslin. “To achieve this we believe requires the creation of a plethora of experiences, not just our own. And that requires many contributors which means a platform is needed to make it a reality.”
See the full presentation below.
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Disclosure: ARtillry has no financial stake in the companies mentioned in this post, nor received payment for its production. Disclosure and ethics policy can be seen here.