Niantic, the augmented reality platform that is developing games like Pokémon Go, raised $300 million From Coatue, the company is valued at $9 billion. The San Francisco-based startup, which initially spun out of Google, will use this money to build a “real-world metaverse.”
In early August, Niantic founder and CEO John Hanke referred to the Metaverse—at least, which obliges us to VR headsets, such as those in “Ready Player One”—as “”nightmare nightmareUnlike Facebook, which changed its company name to Meta to signify its investment in VR technology, Niantic wants to develop technology that brings people closer to the outside world. Earlier this month, Niantic unveiled its Lightship AR Developer Kit (ARDK), a publicly available tool for developing AR games, available for free to anyone with a basic knowledge of the Unity game engine.
“At Niantic, we believe that humans are happiest when their virtual world leads them to the physical world,” Hanke said at the time. “Unlike a sci-fi metaverse, a real-world metaverse will use technology to improve our experience of the world as we have known it for thousands of years.”
The funding will help expand ARDK, which has already been used to build augmented reality experiences by companies such as Coachella, Historic Royal Palace, Universal Pictures, SoftBank, Warner Music Group and PGA of America. So, instead of using technology like VR headsets – which are still inaccessible to most of the population – AR projects mostly use smartphones to encourage people to explore their outdoor surroundings. For example, you might walk across the same mural every day, but in Pokémon Go, a user-generated PokéStop description can tell you exactly what that mural represents. Niantic says millions of people play Niantic’s games every month, walking more than 10.9 billion miles in its games since launch.
“Niantic is building a platform for AR based on a 3D map of the world, which we believe will play a key role in the next transition in computing,” said Matt Mazeo, a general partner at Coatue. “We are excited to partner with Niantic as we see this infrastructure supporting a metaverse for the real world and helping to power the next evolution of the Internet.”
The VR metaverse may be “dystopian” in Hanke’s eyes, but like any technology, AR is not without its problems. Niantic’s latest game, Pikmin Bloom, is designed for walking, which can be alienating for elderly or disabled players. Pokémon Go has a community of players with disabilities, but they have had to speak out about how some small in-game tweaks could make the game more accessible to people with limited mobility.
Still, Niantic’s vision offers an alternative to the Meta’s headset-dependent plans. Pokémon Go remains a smash success – it earned more $1 billion It’s already on track to grow that revenue in 2020, and this year, according to app analytics firm Sensor Tower. Not all of its games are as beloved — the company recently announced that it would be shutting down Harry Potter: Wizards Unite after in-app consumer spending and global installs declined 57% year over year. But as independent developers get their hands on Niantic’s Lightship ARDK, we’ll see how far the concept of a “real-world metaverse” can spread.