With Pokémon Go, Niantic became the poster child for the power of mobile augmented reality (AR) apps. Since then, the company has struggled to recapture that glory. Yesterday’s round of layoffs and canceled projects cemented how difficult things are for Niantic, driven by the pandemic that has made it tough for people to get outside and gather in groups. But it turns out there’s another way for Niantic to double down on its AR lead: By making it easier for its existing players to communicate with each other.
Today, the company has begun rolling out Campfire, a social app that will let Niantic’s users chat with their friends, join groups of like-minded mobile wanders, and arrange major events like Pokémon Go’s raids. Up until now, Poké-addicts have used Discord and other messagings apps to arrange their gatherings. But, likely seeing a missed opportunity, Niantic has developed its own social platform, one that’ll be accessible across all of its titles (including Ingress, its first major release).
Campfire is about more than just messaging, though. It also gives players a broader glimpse at everything the company’s games have to offer. In Pokémon Go, for example, it can show you that there’s a Venusaur hanging out on the other side of town, a far wider view than you’d typically get in the game’s main app. You can also light a flare on specific events, which alerts other local players that you’d like some help tackling it. And, as you’d expect, Campfire also makes it easier to coordinate your friends, like quickly being able to DM your friends if there’s a Snorlax you want to take on.
Even if you don’t have Campfire, though, you’ll still see some benefits within the company’s apps. That expanded map view will be integrated within Pokémon Go, for one. That’s useful for all players, while also being enticing glimpse at what they can access if they sign up for Campfire.
According to Ivan Zhou, Niantic’s head of product, the company is still focused on bringing people together in the real world, rather than using Campfire to power remote events. The app’s Communities feature is also a big step forward, since it’ll let users create groups around any sort of topic. Zhou was already surprised to see groups pop up for niche local topics. There’s also room for Campfire to grow as a location-first social network, rather than using location as an afterthought (like Facebook’s Groups).
Users in the U.S. will get access to Campfire over the coming days, the company says, while international access for Pokémon Go will light up throughout the summer. There aren’t any specific launch dates yet, but the company says it will announce future updates on its social channels.
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Engadget.