Pokémon GO launches into beta in the U.S.

Niantic Labs, the game maker that was spun out of Google last year following Google’s move to Alphabet, announced today that its new title Pokémon GO is launching into beta in the U.S. Those early adopters who signed up to become “field testers” earlier in May are now receiving their invites to the game, in order to offer the company feedback ahead of its broader launch.

The expanded field tests follow those that are already underway in Japan, Australia and New Zealand, but the expansion to the U.S. hints that the game is nearing its public debut.

News that Niantic was working on this project was unveiled in 2015, alongside its $20 million round of Series A funding from Pokémon Company Group, Google and Nintendo. Because Niantic wasn’t spun out of Google to become its own company under the Alphabet umbrella, it has the advantage of operating more like a startup rather than relying on a parent company’s support. As Niantic’s CEO John Hanke previously told TechCrunch, being independent means it can be “more nimble” and can work with companies and teams in new ways.

But that also means the company will need to successfully launch this highly anticipated Pokémon title on mobile, as well as attract and retain an engaged audience of players. Ideally, that audience will include those who are new to the Pokémon universe, too.

[gallery ids="1327912,1327914,1327916,1327917,1327919,1327922,1327926,1327923"]

On a company blog post today, Niantic also revealed a bit more about the game itself. Like Niantic’s previous title Ingress, which connected gameplay to the real world, Pokémon GO will involve real-world locations.

Trainers can help Pokémon evolve, and find and collect Pokémon Eggs, in addition to fully grown Pokémon. But you’ll have to walk a preset distance to hatch the Egg in order to see which Pokémon emerges, the post explains.

In addition, Trainers will encounter Pokémon Gyms in real-world locations, where they can test their Pokémon in battles, and compete to control the Gym for one of three Pokémon Trainer teams. Users will join these teams to battle others teams in these various Gyms, located around the world, with the goal of gaining control of the Gym.

The idea that the mobile world and the real world are connected via the phone and its various sensors is one of Niantic’s hallmarks, and using an iconic title like Pokémon should attract a larger audience to experiment with this crossover form of gaming, as compared with Ingress.

There will be more than 100 Pokémon to capture in the wild — and you’ll be alerted when one is near thanks to push notifications sent to your phone. Other details about gameplay were previously announced — like how to use Poké Ball to catch your Pokémon, plus the game’s use of PokéStops located at places like public art installations, historical markers and monuments, where you can collect more Poké Balls and other items.

If you missed the call for beta testers before, it appears that the form is still accepting sign-up requests. However, it’s unclear how many total testers will be let in. The game is expected to launch on both iOS and Android devices later this year.