One of the big things that makes the Niantic games special is the way you go out into the real world to do things. Ingress and Pokémon Go both involve a heavy amount of roaming the space around you, naturally encouraging you to meet up with friends, and generally being more active. The secret ingredient to all of that is the map, which both Ingress and Pokémon Go heavily rely on to function. A lot of this data came initially from Niantic's old parent company, Google. Over time, Niantic was able to refine some of the mapping data based on how people really walked and interacted with specific areas on the map, but that top-down map from Google powers a lot of the experience.
This year we're going to see a whole lot more of these map-based experiences, and it looks like all of these games are powered by a new Google Maps API.
This is huge for several reasons. First, no company but Google can provide this kind of information and have it be as trusted and accurate as the data you get from Google Maps. It's the most trusted mapping app by far, and with good reason. Giving developers real-time access to this information is huge for companies eager to make their own Pokemon Go clones, a thing we're starting to see more and more of all the time, but it also guarantees Google is the default choice for these games. Even if another company were to release a similar API for its mapping data, there's little chance it would be used to great effect.
The video Google used to share this also offers some promise for the future. While Pokémon Go clones are certainly on the way, the video paints several pictures for alternative experiences where Maps can thrive. One thing Pokémon Go is only now starting to do better is integrate ARCore into the real-world AR experience it has created. When we look at how other developers have been using ARCore, it's not hard to imagine games where you go to a physical place and use ARCore to pass through a portal to the next part of the game. Imagine a real-world Stranger Things, where you could pass through portals to and from the upside-down in order to unlock elements of a story. This could happen with relative ease thanks to the combination of ARCore and this new Google Maps API.
Google plans to explain this system in greater detail during the GDC conference, where we will undoubtedly also learn more about new games coming soon with this tech onboard. With the explosive popularity of Pokemon Go last year, you can bet this API is the start of a scramble to build the next big global experience.
Russell is a Contributing Editor at Android Central. He's a former server admin who has been using Android since the HTC G1, and quite literally wrote the book on Android tablets. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Find him on Facebook and Twitter
If Google modifies its Maps API for consoles too, they'll pretty much have the whole video game industry under their grasp.
Niantic didn't refine any of the mapping data, at least not significantly. They switched Pokémon GO's map source from Google Maps to OpenStreetMap last year, and they were using OSM well before that to determine spawn points and creature types. Go to https://reddit.com/r/TheSilphRoad/ and search for OSM for more info. Having an API specifically for gaming, which OSM doesn't have, may indeed spur adoption.
Pokemon Go didn't come out last year, it was released and was an immediate hit back in July 2016. It is very impressive that it's kept quite strong usage numbers (and a good bit of media hype) ever since its release!
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