Pokemon hiding at bus stops, wizards battling near the library: Niantic's first few augmented reality phone gamesused phones to map the real world into games. The company's next projects are going for board games and immersive theater.
Niantic's newest partnership is with Punchdrunk, the creators of the immersive theater hit Sleep No More (which had been running since 2013, but is on hiatus in New York). Besides immersive theater, Punchdrunk created a Samsung VR piece at Cannes in 2016, and Punchdrunk's artistic director, Felix Barrett, was part of Niantic's augmented reality symposium last fall.
Augmented reality feels like a natural extension of ideas in physical immersive theater, and some experiences have already explored ideas like this on phones and in headsets. (One of my favorite immersive theater experiences felt like augmented reality, but without a screen.) It's unclear what Niantic's Punchdrunk partnership will produce, but a statement from artistic director Barrett says:
"At Punchdrunk we create richly cinematic 3D worlds where audiences can explore, touch and smell the environment; where the boundaries between reality and fantasy are indistinguishable. Those that have seen Sleep No More often liken the experience to how it might feel to walk into a video game. What happens if you take that sense of adventure into the real world? Tear down the walls and the world becomes your stage. I believe that Punchdrunk and Niantic can create something that has never been done before. They do it in AR, we do it in real life. Collide the two and I think we will blow people's minds; bend the rules of genre and redefine the norms of mobile gaming."
Niantic hasn't confirmed any timeframe for the Punchdrunk gaming partnership, but Niantic's other big project, a world-spanning version of Settlers of Catan called Catan World Explorers, is launching in beta soon. Settlers of Catan is a long-standing classic award-winning board game series with its own multiplayer app, but Niantic's version, announced last year, will span actual locations and somehow turn everything into a virtual board game using AR.