Niantic transcends Discord to build Campfire, an AR social network, and unveils Lightship VPS

Since the launch of Pokémon Go in 2016, players have been coordinating meetups, in-game raids and battles on platforms like Reddit and Discord. This summer, parent company Niantic is unveiling Campfire, a social networking service designed to help mobile augmented reality (AR) gamers connect.

Niantic’s games incentivize people to use their technology to go outside and meet others — that’s why it calls its AR development the “real-world metaverse.” Campfire wants to make that even easier (or offer an alternative to long-running Pokémon Go Discord servers) and is supposed to be the “homepage” of this slice of techno-reality. Following in Snapchat’s footsteps as a map-based social platform, the service includes the ability to connect with people, find nearby events, join communities and message people. Users can also share their location with friends (don’t share with strangers!).

The service is now available inside Niantic’s Ingress app and will roll out soon to all Niantic experiences, the company said.

There are the Niantic gaming communities that have already been formed all around the world, with tens of thousands of enthusiastic explorers. These local groups already exist,” CEO John Hanke said in a keynote speech at Niantic’s Lightship summit. “We’re giving them a platform to better conduct their activities and … for players to find these groups. Basically, just providing some tools to make all this smoother and easier for these users.”


Image Credits: Niantic

The next step in its mission to build the “real-world metaverse,” Campfire is part of a new slate of AR products unveiled today, including Niantic’s much-hyped Lightship VPS, or virtual positioning system.

For years, Niantic has been inviting users on Pokémon Go and Ingress to scan local landmarks, even offering in-game incentives for this crowd-sourced data. Then, those short video snippets of real-world locations are validated by developers, which is then processed to become part of the AR map of the world. At launch, Niantic’s head of product for mapping Tory Smith said that San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, New York, London and Tokyo are the most densely mapped. By the end of the year, Lightship VPS will be available in over 100 global cities. With the help of Niantic’s recent 8th Wall acquisition, these features will also be available in mobile web browsers.

With Lightship VPS, if a user scans their location, the VPS can determine where they are, almost like a GPS (which the name of the product is nodding to). Of course, GPS shows you where you are and what’s around you, but VPS adds another layer, showing you user-generated experiences designed to enhance your real-world experience.

Lightship VPS functionality will be available to AR developers via Niantic’s Lightship AR Developer Kit now.

Update, 5/27/22, 10 AM, Editor’s Note: The post was updated to correct that Campfire is not a standalone social networking app. It’s a social networking service that’s being rolled out to Niantic’s apps.