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The definitive Niantic reading guide

An annotated list to everything written on Niantic to accompany our EC-1

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Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

In just a few years, Niantic has evolved from internal side project into an independent industry trailblazer. Having reached tremendous scale in such a short period of time, Niantic acts as a poignant crash course for founders and company builders. As our EC-1 deep-dive into the company shows, lessons from the team’s experience building the Niantic’s product offering remain just as fresh as painful flashbacks to the problems encountered along the way.

As we did for our Patreon EC-1, we’ve poured through every analysis we could find on Niantic and have compiled a supplemental list of resources and readings that are particularly useful for getting up to speed on the company.

Reading time for this article is about 9.5 minutes. It is part of the Extra Crunch EC-1 on Niantic. Feature illustration by Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch.

I. Background: The Story of Niantic

Google-Incubated Niantic, Maker of Ingress, Stepping Out on Its Own | August 2015 | In August of 2015, Niantic announced that it would spin out from Google and become an independent company. As discussed in WSJ’s coverage of the news, Niantic looked at the spin out as a way to accelerate growth and collaborate with the broader entertainment ecosystem.

THE ROAD TO POKÉMON GO—AND BEYOND | December 2016 | In a deep-dive feature on the company, Wired editor-at-large Steven Levy outlined the full history of Niantic from inception, to first customer, to Pokémon GO’s virality, while also contextualizing the company’s creation and mission within founder and CEO John Hanke’s path from childhood to Google guru. For a similar overview, see The Inside Story Of ‘Pokémon GO’s’ Evolution From Google Castoff To Global Phenomenon | July 2016 | by former Forbes reporter (and current BuzzFeed senior reporter) Ryan Mac.

Inside the Mind of Google’s Greatest Idea Man, John HankeThere’s A ‘Sphere Of Weirdness’ Hidden Deep Within Google & Niantic Labs’ John Hanke – “Adventures on Foot” – D.I.C.E. 2014 Summit
 | December 2012, January 2013 & February 2013 | Forbes early-2013 feature, Inc’s late-2012 interview with founder and CEO John Hanke, and Hanke’s 2014 talk at the D.I.C.E. 2014 Summit predate Niantic’s spinout from Google. Both pieces outline Niantic’s initial projects, discuss Hanke’s grand ambition for geo-based augmented reality and foreshadow the future growth of Niantic as a standalone gaming leader.

Meet the Mastermind Behind This Summer’s Pokémon Craze, The CEO behind ‘Pokémon Go’ explains why it’s become such a phenomenon & The accidental history of Niantic’s Pokémon Go, as told by John Hanke | July 2016, July 2016 & August 2016 | In a series of late-2017 interviews with Time, VentureBeat and Business Insider, founder and CEO John Hanke provides first hand accounts and personal anecdotes related to Niantic’s evolution, while also providing his view on the philosophical mission of the company, logic and data-based explanations behind why the offering is attractive to users and where geo-AR is heading in the long-term.

Why did Google get rid of the company behind Pokémon Go? | July 2016 | Unlike other all-encompassing historical looks back at Niantic, Recode’s 2016 analysis focused primarily on the company’s spin-out from Google. The piece not only explains Niantic’s strategic rationale for the spin out, but also provides interesting context and perspective from Google, detailing how Google’s desire to be a neutral platform rather than application developer helped drive the mutual separation.

Guest Speaker Interview with John Hanke, CEO – Niantic, Inc. @ UC Berkeley Executive Education & Niantic CEO John Hanke: Beyond Pokémon Go | March 2016 & April 2016 | Two public and taped interviews of CEO John Hanke explaining strategic decisions made around Niantic’s growth efforts and initial launches, as well as best practices that can be applied to other founders and companies.

II. Strategy

A Peek Inside the Niantic Real World Platform & Niantic is opening its AR platform so others can make games like Pokémon Go | June 2018 & July 2018 | In a blog post and a series of interviews and demos, CEO John Hanke announced Niantic’s plan to open up the underlying AR technology to third-party game developers, with a platform called “Niantic Real World Platform”.

Pokémon GO: A Lesson In Product Rebranding | July 2016 | In a blog post, analytics startup Amplitude explains how Pokémon GO was effectively a rebrand of features from prior Niantic game, Ingress, which effectively repackaged the game to a much wider audience base.

Pokémon GO reveals sponsors like McDonald’s pay it up to $0.50 per visitor & The Unique Way Pokemon Go Makes Money | May 2017 & June 2017 | Josh Constine and Dice explain how Niantic drives revenue by directing users to sponsored locations, with the company revealing that partner locations pay Niantic $0.50 per daily unique visitor.

Accelerating Our Augmented Reality Vision With 5G Networks & Why Niantic betting on 5G is a big deal for AR | December 2018 | In a late-2018 video, Niantic detailed the company’s long-term plan to launch platforms and products enabled by the proliferation of 5G.

The Future of AR is Already in Your Pocket @ SXSW Convergence 2016 & John Hanke of Niantic Labs has Pokémon Plans at Disrupt SF | April 2016 & September 2016 | COE John Hanke’s appearances at TechCrunch Disrupt and South by Southwest in 2016, in which Hanke walks through his outlook for the future of mapping technologies, augmented reality and the strategic road forward for Niantic.

III. Marketing 

Why Niantic didn’t need marketing to make Pokémon Go viral | July 2016 | The Conversation outlines how user-generated content, parody, virality and Pokémon GO’s network effects generated massive organic growth for Niantic and acted as its primary marketing engine.

The Ingenious Marketing Strategy That Made ‘Pokémon GO’ A Smash Hit | July 2016 | Forbes provides further explanation of Pokémon GO’s natural virality by explaining how the game tapped into users’ inner child by implementing rewards systems, by utilizing licensed content with historical cultural significance, and by reducing adoption barriers for new game technologies through existing platforms.

Niantic’s secret marketing strategy: vagueness and mystery | August 2017 | Pokémon GO Hub explains how Niantic goes against traditional marketing around game launches by utilizing “vagueness and mystery” — through purposeful leaks, unexplained update descriptions, or otherwise — to create buzz around new updates and launches.

Building the brand: Niantic and the Pokémon GO story & Mike Quigley (Niantic) on AR & Community Building in ‘Real World Games’ @ TNW Conference 2017 | April 2018 & June 2017 | Niantic CTO and co-founder Phil Keslin’s talk at Collision Conference and CMO Mike Quigley’s talk at TNW Conference, discussing Niantic’s marketing strategies and key learnings from Ingress to Pokémon GO. Both discuss how implementing gameplay dependent on community participation and social dynamics created organic network effects, while also recounting how the company dealt with rapid scale issues and gameplay issues.

IV. Product & Design

How the gurus behind Google Earth created ‘Pokémon | July 2016 | In a conversation with Mashable, CEO John Hanke explained how Niantic went about implementing specific locations for Pokémon, Pokéstops and gyms. Hanke explains how the company leveraged an existing portal of locations from an earlier Niantic game, Ingress, that were gathered based on user submissions, historical markers, and geo-tagged photos from Google.  Niantic utilized a second layer of mapping that specified environmental and geographic conditions to help establish which Pokémon would appear where.

What is Pokémon Go’s story? Here’s a theory | July 2016 | In a late-2016 piece, former Verge culture editor and current Polygon executive editor Chris Plante outlines his theories on the Pokémon GO narrative and explains how Niantic opts out of using traditional story or narrative game structure in favor of one that is up to interpretation as more details are revealed over time.

Niantic Is Adding More Story-Driven Elements to Pokémon GO, But All We Really Care About Is Mew | March 2018 | Alongside new content, Niantic released new in-game features that would offer additional rewards while also unveiling more narrative plot points.

What’s next for Pokémon GO? Niantic designer discusses the future of AR games | November 2016 | In a very brief interview with Mic, Niantic’s VP of Visual and Interaction Design, Dennis Hwang, explained the company’s platform focused strategy and hinted at Niantic’s future open API products stating “We want other people to be able to build interesting fictional experiences on top of the real-world-based technology that we’ve built.”

Pokémon GO with Edward Wu, Director of Software Engineering at Niantic: GCPPodcast 57 | February 2017 | In an episode of the Google Cloud Platform podcast, Niantic VP of Platform and engineering head Ed Wu outlines all the engineering and technical architecture platforms powering Niantic and recounts the major technical hurdles and considerations Niantic faced when scaling. Wu also details how Niantic’s underlying technical infrastructure has changed over time, including a discussion of Niantic’s major transition from App Engine, a previous generation of Google’s Cloud computing products, to Google Container engine.

Horizon – Fireside Chat with Niantic & Phil Keslin (Niantic Labs): ar is more than just pixels | October 2016 & June 2018 | In a late-2016 conversation with Google Cloud exec Tariq Shaukat and Google Director of Customer Reliability Engineering Dave Rensin, as well as in a 2018 talk at Augmented World Expo, Niantic CTO and co-founder Phil Keslin described how Niantic’s relationship with Google Cloud was vital to the company’s survival, as it allowed the company to keep data storage costs low despite gaining significant scale at a rapid rate and helped Niantic keep Pokémon GO online during the initial usage surge post-launch.

RAAIS 2018 – Phil Keslin, CTO and Co-Founder at Niantic | July 2018 | Niantic CTO and co-founder Phil Keslin provides a detailed presentation around, and explanation of, the technical architecture of Niantic’s platform, and the key problems each component helps support.

V. Growth 

The CEO behind ‘Pokémon Go’ says the company is cash-flow positive as it becomes worth almost $4 billion | January 2019 | In an interview with Business Insider following the company’s Series C fundraise, CEO John Hanke explained stated that Niantic had brought in over $2 billion of revenues since its 2016 launch and had become cash-flow positive.

The Quiet, Steady Dominance of Pokémon Go | July 2018 | Wired presented a timeline of Niantic and Pokémon GO’s new product launches, while also providing additional detail around Niantic’s user and revenue metrics, specifying revenue, interestingly, is evenly split between iOS and Android.

Fundraising

Niantic @ CrunchBase – CrunchBase’s one-stop hub to track Niantic metrics and fundraising activity.

Series A: Niantic raises $5 million to forge ahead with Pokémon Go February 2016 | VentureBeat’s coverage of Niantic’s 2015 round in which the company raised $20-$30 million in funding from Nintendo, the Pokémon Company Group, and Google.

Series B: Niantic reportedly raising $200M at $3.9B valuation | December 2018 | TechCrunch’s coverage of Niantic’s $200 million Series B in late-2018, which was used to fuel development of it’s Harry Potter-themed follow-up game to Pokémon GO. The round was led by Spark Capital, with participation from Founders Fund, Javelin Venture Partners, Meritech Capital Partners, NetEase Capital and You & Mr Jones Brandtech Ventures.

Series C: Niantic finalizes its Series C at $245M with a valuation of nearly $4B January 2019 | TechCrunch’s coverage of Niantic’s $245 million Series C in January of 2019, which will be used for hiring related to additional expansion efforts like its the underlying AR database and platform, soon to be made available to third-party developers. The round was led by IVP and backed by aXiomatic Gaming, Battery Ventures, Causeway Media Partners, CRV and Samsung Ventures. 

VI. Mergers & Acquisitions

Seismic Games

Niantic acquires Seismic Games July 2018 | Greg Kumparak’s coverage of Niantic’s acquisition of game studio Seismic Games, most famous for its Marvel-themed mobile RPG game. In the piece, Greg discusses the strategic rationale of Niantic combining forces with another experienced developer of games using licensed IP.

Matrix Mill

Niantic’s latest acquisition lets AR Pokémon hide behind the real world June 2018 | TechCrunch’s coverage of Niantic’s acquisition of Matrix Mill, a company that used neural networks to quickly renders and processes depth of images containing overlapping AR and actual footage. Greg Kumparak’s article goes into more depth on how the technology works and walks through Niantic’s initial unveiling of details around its upcoming cross-platform API and third-party developer tools.

Escher Reality

Pokémon GO creator Niantic buys Escher Reality AR startup | February 2018 | Niantic acquired AR startup and Y-Combinator alum Escher Reality in early-2018 for an undisclosed amount. Escher focused on developing backend AR functionality that would help systems remember and update a shared AR environment to reflect changes made by various users.

Evertoon

Niantic acqui-hires Evertoon to add a social network to Pokémon Go and other apps November 2017 | In late-2017, Niantic gobbled up the team from the startup Evertoon in an acqui-hire transaction. Impressed by the Evertoon team’s engineering and social systems expertise, Niantic bought the user-generated social video app to help further develop its mobile product offering.

VII. Competitors

Two years later, Pokémon Go finally has some competition & ‘Pokémon GO’ Has A New, Uh, ‘Competitor’ In ‘Jurassic World Alive’ | July 2018& March 2018 | The Verge and Forbes highlight competing mobile location-based AR games based on licensed content, including Jurassic World Alive by developer Ludia, and The Walking Dead Our World by developer Next Games.

VIII. Criticism & Controversies

What’s Next for the $3.65 Billion Company Behind Pokemon Go | November 2016 | As part of its Company of the Year candidate announcements in late-2016, Inc recounted a number of issues Niantic encountered on the product side and otherwise. The piece recounts the company’s issues with overloaded servers during Pokémon Go’s initial launch, user complaints about the lack of communication regarding bugs and updates, as well as government complaints over safety issues created by Pokémon Go players swarming public space. 

‘Pokémon Go’ Creator Closes Privacy Hole But Still Collects User Data | July 2016 | In 2016, Niantic drew heat after inadvertently collecting massive amounts of personal user data. As WSJ’s coverage of the misstep explained: “The issue occurred when iPhone users signed in to Pokémon Go through their Google account, and Niantic requested full access.” Niantic reiterated that it only intended to gather basic account information and resolved the issue as swiftly as possible. 

Niantic poised to settle Pokémon Go trespassing complaints | February 2019 | Niantic faced numerous complaints and a large class-action lawsuit related to Pokémon Go users trespassing on private property. The company eventually settled the lawsuit, as detailed in Ars Technica’s early-2019 coverage, that in-part stipulated Niantic would have to swiftly remove any in-game location within close proximity to private property that drew complaints from homeowners.

IX. Jobs Board & New Initiatives

Niantic Careers – Understand the company’s structure, gauge the company’s product strategy and keep track of new initiatives based on open job opportunity listings.

X. Events

Niantic Events / Pokémon GO events / Ingress Events – Conferences, community events, and large-shared games.

Read more about Niantic as part of the Extra Crunch EC-1 on Niantic.

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