John Hanke, who appears to still be recovering from the success of last year’s hit mobile game “Pokemon Go,” made a strong case for augmented reality as an opening keynote speaker Thursday at the Austin Game Conference.
At the two-day convention for video game developers, which was expected to attract about 800 people to the Austin Convention Center, Hanke suggested that even with major players such as Apple moving rapidly into pushing augmented reality with its “ARKit” development software, there’s still a long way to go and a lot of potential in AR.
“ARKit is a baby step, but not the whole thing,” he said in an interview with Polygon gaming site founder Chris Plante. “There’s a misconception of what AR is. We had AR five years ago with marker-based AR games on cell phones and the Nintendo 3DS, but it didn’t have a lot of mass appeal. It’s considered kind of a failure.”
But with improved camera and phone technology and a merging with virtual-reality technology, AR has rebounded from the trough of disillusionment, now often christened as “Mixed reality,” Hanke said.
“Seamlessly blending the virtual with reality, that’s the endgame,” Hanke said. “There’s a lot of work to do.”
When it debuted last summer, “Pokemon Go” became a huge it. It got people around the world outside hunting virtual creatures with their cell phones, and was downloaded about 750 million times. Even more than a year later, it has about 5 million active users.
Hanke hinted that the success, though welcome, created lots of unforeseen complications for his team, which previously had had a modest hit with the multiplayer AR game “Ingress.”
“All of us who make software, you want people to use it, that’s your dream. We were incredibly lucky. But man, what a crazy situation to have it explode virally the way it did around the world and then to have to contend, not to complain, with the aftermath of that.”
Among the unwelcome side effects were the strain of keeping the game up and running through crushing demand and dealing with “Personal, physical threads” from people in countries such as Brazil and India. Hanke said people who wanted the game to launch in their country asked, “Why are you discriminating against us?”
Though Hanke acknowledged that there’s still huge potential in virtual reality, he said his interests lie in social games that get people out and away from the kitchen gaming table and into the world. His team is currently working on a sequel to “Ingress” built from scratch and Niantic is also planning to publish games from outside developers.
Hanke’s company was spun off from Google and has Nintendo as an investor.
He said he’s worried that people believe augmented reality is limited to overlaying items on a cell phone. “For me, really doing AR means taking the real world and adding interesting stuff to it, not necessarily on a tabletop but on the way to work, in the park. Blending magical fictional stuff you create with the real world.”
Elsewhere at the first day of the Austin Gaming Convention, speakers discussed artificial intelligence in game design, monetizing mobile games, crowdfunding and other nuts and bolts for game-industry professionals. The convention continues through Friday.