XR Talks is a 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.


Early consumer AR leaders are few in number and decisive in market share. That goes for user engagement and revenue. So far they include Snap and Niantic, the former deriving a leading share of AR ad revenue and the latter leading with consumer revenue (in-app purchases).

That makes Niantic’s views on AR strategies and market direction worth listening to, even though Pokemon Go’s AR designation is debated (our take: it is AR). And according to the company’s AR lead Ross Finnman at Venture Beat’s Game Summit (video below), it’s a multidisciplinary effort.

“You need to understand reality in order to augment it,” he said. “If you want to put a Pikachu on the table or have a robot put a cup on the table, you still need to understand the table in the same way… so a lot of the people we hire come from fields like robotics self-driving cars and drones.”

But another key factor beyond underlying technology is making experiences that are compelling. That’s an experimental process to test interactions and game mechanics that drive repeat usage. This is what it did with it’s GO Snapshot feature to let users pose with captured Pokemon.

“There’s a lot of testing because there are two different aspects of what makes something fun,” said Finnman. “The first is a novelty factor, which is where a lot of AR is today. Then there are mechanics that you can work in to create new game loops that make people want to come back.”

Going deeper into AR interactions, Finnman names phone positioning as a key element to compelling experiences. This especially applies to multiplayer games that localize devices off each others’ position, such as Codename: Neon. Treating the real world as content is also valuable.

“What is the content of the world, and how do you interact with that?” he said. “How can games change based on where you are and what you’re doing? So if you’re by a beach, there more water pokemon… Or the color of a room can change the balancing aspect of a game.”

These are the types of approaches that work towards broadening AR definitions beyond the typical connotation of graphical overlays on the real world. Finnman also espouses native thinking as a way to create AR that will gain user traction, which was a success factor for Pokemon Go.

“Pokemon Go, you can’t really play by sitting on your couch. You can’t even play it with an iPad,” said Finman. “If you think about apps that are native to the environment like say Uber… That is native primarily to mobile phones. You can’t do that an iPad, and it’s hard to do on a desktop.”

As for next steps, Niantic is working on more realistic and human-centric AR interactions. For example, Pokemon that have lifelike interactions with players in the frame. Meanwhile, Niantic continues to innovate using its definition of AR, whether or not it fits others’ narrower definitions.

“In the gaming space, part of what we’re doing is fulfilling a fantasy,” said Finnman. “[Pokemon Go] delighted hundreds of millions of people to imagine there’s Pokemon in the real world. It’s about creating that emotion people have. In the gaming space like that’s extremely important.”

See the full talk below.

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