Two key reasons Pokémon Go exists (Spoiler: they're both data)

Wednesday 13 July 2016
Nic Crowther's picture
Co Editor
The Shaker

Okay, so there is probably a third: money. However, this week’s global phenomenon, Pokémon Go owes its existence to the relentless pursuit of data – both in the past and the future.



The Making of Pokémon Go

Fire up the app and the first thing you see is the name of the production company, Niantic. The company sprouted out of Google in San Francisco, and was established by John Hanke before going out on its own in 2015.

The company’s first real success was Ingress, a Portal-style game that encouraged players to identify interesting places in their local communities that were built into the game as sites for battles with other players.


Ingress screenshot


The boon for Niantic as that, as the game spread across the globe, the company accrued an increasing database of cool places that were easily identified by anyone living in that region.

Armed with this data, all Niantic needed to do was find a way to use it. Enter the Japanese gaming giant, Nintendo – owner of the Pokémon franchise and a company so far resolute in its resistance to entering the mobile gaming market via any vehicle other than its own platforms,from Gameboy the Nintendo 3DS.


Pokémon Go screenshot


Building the partnership

In July 2015, Niantic announced its partnership with Nintendo and The Pokémon Company to develop Pokémon Go. As head honchos back in Japan nervously watched their IP be developed by another company, onlookers were amazed to see that $30 million had been allocated for development of a mobile phone app.

$30 million! To put that in comparison, surveys pitch the average cost of app development between $150,000 and $250,000.



Benefits for Google.

All players are required to sign in with a Google account. While there has been some initial controversy around the level of access that Google has to your data, this has been amended to ensure that a limited amount of info is taken from each player.

You can be absolutely sure that one aspect collected is GPS data. To quote Wikipedia: Niantic's systems utilise high throughput real-time geospatial querying and indexing techniques to process more than 200 million game actions per day as people interact with real and virtual objects in the physical world.



Now, not only can users benefit from all the interesting places accumulated by Niantic through Ingress, they are collecting a whole new series of data points for the owners of the game while us humble folk stumble about and collect Pokémon.


The road beyond

What Google or Niantic does with this is anyone’s guess. Be it maps or a future application, Google suddenly has some 50 million people wandering the streets with their camera on and feeding their location back to Mountain View.

Say what you like about the silliness of people wandering around and collecting make-believe monsters, the big issue here is data, and who will make millions out of what is supplied to Google via a free app.