Since the game launched in the summer of 2016, Pokemon GO developer Niantic has made much of an effort to improve the game’s map and the way that it depicts the real world. For example, around five months ago Niantic made the major decision to stop using the Google Maps system for the title, switching to OpenStreetMap (OSM) instead. But it seems that the developer still isn’t satisfied with the way that it can use map software in its games.
Niantic has now announced plans to use the Pokemon GO player community in order to help it build better 3D maps for AR (augmented reality) games. Niantic, which also created the AR game Ingress, has revealed that it will gather data about the world by using the cameras on a user’s smartphone or tablet. The Pokemon GO developer has yet to reveal exactly when it will begin gathering data using this method, but the company has confirmed that it will first gather information about public spaces such as parks and plazas.
Niantic has also declined to explain exactly how these AR maps will be included in games like Pokemon GO, though the developer is putting a lot of effort into it. Niantic CEO John Hanke said, “We want players to build out the game board they want to play on,” adding that AR maps can be a “new kind of social activity.” This emphasis on social activity is apparently why Niantic acquired Escher Reality, the cross-platform AR company, earlier this year.
The Pokemon GO developer has spoken before about its desire to advance the augmented reality industry. Last year, Niantic’s CTO Phil Keslin was keen to highlight the fact that “AR is not just visual,” saying that “audio is significant,” also suggesting that the developer’s future titles would incorporate audio much more heavily. Keslin also expressed an interest in reducing how much time people spend looking at their screens.
When discussing the AR maps program, Hanke revealed that third-party developers would be able to access the created maps. It’s unclear exactly how much this would cost or what Niantic may ask for in return, but it again reflects the developer’s interest in improving AR games. It’s also too early to say exactly how much of an impact AR maps could have on titles like Pokemon GO and Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, Niantic’s other upcoming title, but many will be watching this closely.
Pokemon GO is available now for Android and iOS devices.