Niantic, the company behind the smash hit Pokémon GO, has reached a turning point.
Whether it’s due to pandemic fatigue or frustration with the limitations of today’s AR technology, the Google-spawned startup has been working hard to replicate the success of GO, which became the fastest-growing game in history shortly after its July 2016 launch. One of the fastest games. Niantic shut down Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, its first high-profile game after GO, just two years after its debut, while another mainstay project, Pikmin Bloom, only generated as many downloads as GO in the same time frame small portion.
Last June, Niantic laid off 8% of its staff — about 85 to 90 people — and canceled four projects, including a Transformers game that had entered beta testing.
Needless to say, Niantic’s second attempt at virality on iOS and Android means a lot to NBA All-World.Revealed last summer in a joint statement with the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association, All-World — which is visually very similar to GO — is It’s packed full of merchandise, basketball culture, mini-games and the chance to meet avatars of real NBA players like Jordan Poole, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the All-World core crowd. The only team I ever followed was the Cleveland Cavaliers, and that’s only because I grew up near Cleveland (and, well, LeBron’s stardom didn’t hurt). Since I’m not much of a sports fan — my preferred genre of games involves controllers and screens — I didn’t give All-World much thought until TechCrunch executive editor Darrell Etherington assigned me to write a first impressions piece.
So I turned a blind eye to my All-World demo, which took place on a gloomy, gloomy, rainy afternoon in a compound near Red Hook, Brooklyn. The PR person who arranged the event told me that The Compound was founded by AND1’s famed hip-hop DJ Set Free Richardson. Neat. Regardless, the loft-like space is well appointed, with a checkerboard rug, Picasso-esque prints and a pool table set up for play.
But I’m not here to play pool. After arriving and pouring myself a cup of coffee, I sat down on a thick leather couch next to Glenn Chin, head of global marketing at Niantic, and Marcus Matthews, senior producer at All-World, as I walked through All-World’s Play Store and App every day. Before the Store is released.
I start with an obvious question: why basketball, now, for Niantic?Why did the studio choose this Its next AR adventure sports? Chin responded bluntly that it was easier to strike a licensing deal with a different football federation than with an international organization like the NBA. But he and Matthews — who grew up playing basketball in downtown Jacksonville, Florida — also harp on the communal aspect of basketball, especially in cities with public courts where kids and teens congregate (I’m told) casually play basketball.
In emphasizing social, the development team behind All-World has followed in GO’s footsteps, and in addition to the sheer brand strength of Pokémon, it also resonates for the compelling mix of shared and competitive experiences it offers. (Think gym battles with strangers and crazy sprints for rare Pokémon.) It’s a fine-tuning of a familiar formula, albeit with some twists and adaptations to meet the expectations of today’s gamers.
Like GO, All-World players can explore their neighborhoods to find collectibles, power-ups, and various other interesting items.Exploration involves physically walking to a place—this yes It’s a Niantic game after all — and navigating menus with tap-and-swipe-based gestures. In the app, you are represented by an avatar.
All-World is built on Niantic’s Lightship platform, which leverages the Unity game engine to power graphics and gameplay. Orlando-based HypGames co-developed the experience with Niantic; HypGames CEO Mike Taramykin served as vice president and general manager of EA’s Tiger Woods franchise until 2013.
On top of the real-world map around the player, All-World layers things like power-ups, challenges, gear, boosts, and in-game currency. When Matthews showed me the game, there wasn’t much around the compound, but he managed to pick up some money that he could use to make costumes for his NBA player avatars.
A core mechanic of All-World is recruiting these players, who can then “level up” to become “rulers” of their local basketball court. (The game currently has over 100,000 courts.) Players can challenge each other on real-world courts for 3-pointers and other timing-based mini-games, which not only improve players’ recruiting levels, but also their overall team-level rating.
Team tiers serve as a performance-based proxy for real-world salary caps—the higher the tier, the better NBA players world-class players can recruit.
Adjacent to this, All-World has a strong marketing component. Players can search for “dropped” jerseys and more (a la Supreme) that reflect real-world SKUs from brands like Adidas and Nike. Their in-game team members will wear this item, some of which can boost their game stats. Chin said there are plans to collaborate with other brands to create and re-create accessories, ball games, apparel and sneakers, even in sync with real-world product launches.
Chin and Matthews say the merch mechanic was built to reflect — and respect — basketball fans’ devotion to collectibles. I do not doubt this fact. But there is also an obvious profit motive. All-World may be free to play, but it’s certainly not a charity.
As another example, Niantic also plans to make money by selling “boosts” to player stats like offense and defense that improve performance in minigames. Chin and Matthews don’t deny that players who give it their all can get through some aspects of All-World more quickly.But Matthews stressed that the players will not need If they play relatively frequently, they pay cash.
That remains to be seen. I only got a glimpse of the game–unfortunately encountered some freezing issues during the demo. (It’s not out of the question that Matthews blamed the Compound building for its poor reception—it wasn’t good.) The bigger question is whether All-World will have staying power—whether, in fact, it will make enough noise to be in the Stand out from the super crowded mobile market.
With All-World, Niantic is betting on the strength of the NBA brand and the appeal of AR. As a sports ignorant I can’t comment on the previous point. But for the latter, I won’t be writing a eulogy for AR just yet. In my opinion, the technology is just getting started — especially if rumors of Apple earbuds come true one day.
If Niantic can keep All-World fresh and interesting with compelling AR-centric gameplay, it might have a lifeline. (My impression is that the content is a bit light at the moment, but to be fair, it’s too early.) On the other hand, if All-World evolves into a pay-to-win marathon, I don’t see it on the download charts It’s been a long time at the top — if ever.
As for what All-World’s success or failure might mean for Niantic, it won’t necessarily bankrupt or bankrupt the company. Niantic sells its Lightship platform to developers as a paid service. GO is still (pun intended) going strong, with an estimated revenue of over $1 billion. Additionally, Niantic raised $300 million in November 2021 at a $9 billion valuation — more than double its 2018 valuation.
But after years of development, it’s no doubt a disappointment to the studio — to NBA brass who clearly believe in Niantic’s ability to deliver viral magic.