Niantic, the game developer behind Pokémon GO, has raised $470 million — most recently at a $4 billion valuation — largely on the promise that it can translate the mainstream success of a breakout mobile game into a full-fledged augmented reality platform that can rival efforts by Facebook and Apple.
Today, Niantic shared that it will begin further leveraging Pokémon GO players to bolster its 3D data collection, allowing users to share videos of real-world PokéStop and Gym locations that Niantic will crowdsource to create rich 3D maps.
“A machine-readable, 3-D map of a place gives devices (such as current mobile phones and future headsets) a better understanding of the depth and the complexities of the real world,” a Niantic blog post regarding the announcement reads.
The move is likely to be the subject of privacy concerns as Niantic collects and sophisticatedly interprets rich user data. Confining the data collection to locations specifically designated as a PokéStop and Gym will allow Niantic to minimize the chances they are collecting visual data from private locations, like inside someone’s home. The feature will be opt-in for players, at least initially. Data uploaded to Niantic’s servers will also be anonymized and visual data, including faces and license plates, will be blurred automatically, the company says.
This announcement comes just two months after Niantic’s acquisition of AR startup 6D.ai, which had professed to be building out a crowdsourced 3D map of the world.
Pokémon GO launched to considerable fanfare back in 2016, but the title has continued to be a cash cow for the studio. The game had its best-ever revenues in 2019, nearly $900 million, according to analyst estimates.
As Niantic pushes 3D data collection to more of its users, the company likely hopes to give itself a key data advantage in its race to build out an augmented reality developer platform. In addition to its own game titles, the studio has also slowly been building out its Niantic Real World Platform, which allows augmented reality developers to leverage its AR tech to create their own games and software.
Niantic faces steep competition from Apple’s ARKit platform and Facebook’s nascent Spark AR platform to court developer attention. Niantic’s key platform advantage could rely on supplying developers with access to a network of 3D data maps, which would allow them to create larger, more ambitious AR projects, while likely allowing users of those projects to also send visual data back to Niantic, further strengthening said platform.
Niantic will be rolling out its 3D data collection feature in June to Pokémon GO users ranked above Level 40, and will push it to others soon thereafter.