Niantic Tries Sports With NBA All-World • TechCrunch

Niantic, the company behind the massive Pokémon GO game, has reached an inflection point.

Whether due to pandemic fatigue or frustration with the limitations of today’s AR technology, the startup Google built has struggled desperately to replicate the success of GO, which became one of the fastest-growing games in history shortly after its launch in July 2016. Niantic shut down Harry Potter: Wizards Uniteher first high-profile title after GO, just two years after her debut, while another supporting project – Pikmin bloom – It only resulted in a fraction of the downloads GO achieved during the same time frame.

Last June, Niantic laid off – laid off temporarily 8% of its staff — about 85 to 90 people — has canceled four of its projects, including a Transformers game that’s already in beta testing.

Needless to say, there’s a lot riding on NBA All-World, Niantic’s latest attempt to make iOS and Android functional again. It was revealed last summer in a joint announcement with the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association that All World — which is visually very similar to GO — is Filled with merchandise, nods to basketball culture, minigames and opportunities to meet real-world avatars of NBA players like Jordan Paul, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the primary All-World demographic. The only team I’ve ever followed is the Cleveland Cavaliers, and that’s simply because I grew up near Cleveland (well, LeBron’s stardom didn’t hurt). Since I’m not a sports person—my favorite type of gameplay involves consoles and monitors—I didn’t give All-World much thought until TechCrunch editor Darrell Etherington commissioned me to write my first impressions segment.

So I delved into showing my All-World Show, which took place on a gray, gloomy, rainy afternoon at the complex near Red Hook in Brooklyn. The Compound, as the PR folks who staged the affair told me, was founded by hip-hop DJ Set Free Richardson of AND1 fame. salary. In any case, the loft-like space is well appointed, with checkerboard-patterned rugs and Picasso-esque prints, and a pool table stocked and ready to play.

Niantic first world

Image credits: Kyle Wiggers / TechCrunch

But I wasn’t there for the pool. After arriving and pouring myself a cup of coffee, I plopped down on a thick leather couch next to Glenn Chen, Niantic’s head of global marketing, and Marcus Matthews, one of the All-World’s senior producers, to walk around the All-World daily. before it was released on Play Store and App Store.

I started with the obvious question: Why basketball, now, for Niantic? Why did he choose the studio? This is amazing Sports for its next AR project? Responding bluntly, Chen noted that licensing deals are much easier to strike with an international organization like the National Basketball Association than with, say, disparate soccer leagues. But he and Matthews — who grew up playing basketball in downtown Jacksonville, Florida — have repeatedly emphasized the community aspect of basketball as well, particularly in cities with public courts where kids and teens (so I’m told) congregate to casually shoot some rings.

Emphasizing social relationships, the development team behind All-World followed in the footsteps of GO, which went beyond the sheer brand strength of Pokémon – resonating with it because of the compelling mix of shared and competitive experiences it offered. (Think gym fights with strangers and Crazy dashes for rare Pokemon.) It’s a fine-tuning of a familiar formula, albeit with a few twists and tweaks to meet the expectations of today’s gaming audience.

Niantic first world

Image credits: Niantic

As with GO, All-World players can explore their own neighborhoods to obtain collectibles, power-ups, and other items with various exotics. Exploration requires physically walking somewhere – that he A Niantic game, after all — and navigating the menus is by tap and swipe-based gestures. Within the app, you are represented by an avatar.

All-World is built on Niantic’s Lightship platform, which takes advantage of the Unity game engine to power the graphics and gameplay. Orlando-based HypGames co-developed the experience with Niantic; HypGames CEO Mike Taramikin served as VP and GM on EA’s Tiger Woods franchise until 2013.

On top of a real world map of the player’s surroundings, All-World layers things like power-ups, challenges, gear, boosts, and in-game currency. There wasn’t much near the compound when Matthews showed me the game, but he did manage to pick up some navigators that could be put into clothes to avatar an NBA player.

A central All-World mechanic recruits these players, who can then be “leveled up” to become “refs” of the local basketball courts. (The game has more than 100,000 stadiums at the moment.) Players can challenge each other to three-point shootouts and other timing-based minigames recreating real-world stadiums, which not only increases the player’s recruit level but also their overall team level.

A team’s level is a merit-based stand-in for real-world salary caps – the higher the level, the stronger the NBA players a player from all over the world can recruit.

Niantic first world

Image credits: Kyle Wiggers / TechCrunch

Besides, All-World has a strong marketing component. Players can search for T-shirt “drops” and more (a la super high) from brands such as Adidas and Nike that mirror real-world SKUs. These goods are not worn by their in-game team members, and some of them improve their game stats. Chen says the plan is to work with additional brands to create and recreate accessories, balls, apparel, sneakers, and even drop time with real-world product launches.

The dribble mechanic is built to mirror – and respect – basketball Fan madness About holdings, say Chen and Matthews. I do not doubt this fact. But there is a clear profit motive as well. All-World may be free, but it’s certainly not charity.

As another case in point, Niantic also plans to make money by selling “boosters” to player stats such as offense and defense, which improve performance in mini-games. Chin and Matthews don’t deny that players who beat them can advance through certain aspects of the All-World faster. But Matthews stressed that players don’t need to To get rid of cash if they play relatively a lot.

Niantic first world

Image credits: Niantic

That remained to be seen. I only got to grips with glimpses of the game — which, unfortunately, had some freezing issues during the demo. (Matthews blamed the building’s poor reception, which was unlikely — it wasn’t good.) The bigger question is whether All-World has staying power — and indeed, whether it can make enough noise to stand out in the overcrowded mobile market.

With All-World, Niantic is betting on both the power of the NBA brand and the appeal of AR. As a mathematical ignoramus, I can’t speak to the previous point. But regarding the latter, I’m not going to write a eulogy for AR just yet. Technology is just getting started, I’d argue – especially if Rumors From Apple headset comes one day.

If Niantic can keep All-World fresh and interesting with compelling gameplay focused on augmented reality, it might have a fighting chance. (My impression is that it’s a bit light on content right now, but to be fair, that’s early.) On the other hand, if All-World moves to a pay-to-win collect-a-thon, I can’t see it topping Download charts for a very long time – if at all.

As for what All-World’s success or failure might mean for Niantic, it wouldn’t necessarily make or break the company. Niantic sells the Lightship platform to developers as a paid service. And GO (pun intended) is still going strong, with revenue estimated at north of $1 billion. Besides, Niantic has raised $300 million in a $9 billion Assessment November 2021 – more than doubled Evaluated from 2018.

But after years in development, it’s no doubt going to be a disappointment to the studio – and to the NBA bosses who clearly believe in Niantic’s ability to spin viral magic.

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