Home Startups Niantic tries its hand at sports with NBA All-World • TechCrunch

Niantic tries its hand at sports with NBA All-World • TechCrunch

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Niantic, the company behind the blockbuster Pokémon GO, has reached an inflection point.

Whether it’s pandemic fatigue or frustration with the limitations of today’s AR tech, the Google-launched startup quickly became one of the fastest growing games in history after its July 2016 release, GO. Niantic Harry Potter: Wizards Unite was the first high-profile title after GO, which closed just two years after its debut. On the other hand, another large project, Pikmin Bloom, generated only a fraction of the number of downloads GO achieved in the same timeframe.

Last June, Niantic laid off 8% of its staff (around 85-90 people) and canceled four projects, including the Transformers game, which had already entered beta testing.

Needless to say, Niantic’s latest attempt to achieve iOS and Android virality again, NBA All-World, has a lot to look forward to. Revealed last summer in a joint announcement with the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association, All-World is visually very similar to GO, but The chance to meet real-world NBA player avatars such as Jordan Poole, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Andrew Wiggins, as well as products chock-full of nods to basketball culture and mini-games.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the core demographic of the whole world.The only team I’ve ever followed is the Cleveland Cavaliers. It’s simply because I grew up near Cleveland (and LeBron’s stardom didn’t hurt). Since I’m not much of a sports fan — my favorite types of games involve controllers and screens — he’s managing his editor at TechCrunch, and he asked Darrell Etherington to write me a first impressions article. I didn’t think much of All-World until I asked for it.

That’s why we blinded the global demo on a gray, dark, rainy afternoon at the compound near Red Hook, Brooklyn. The compound was tipped off by the PR person who arranged the affair and was founded by hip-hop DJ Set Free Richardson of AND1 fame. decent. Either way, the loft-like space was ready to play with checkered rugs, Picasso-inspired prints and pool tables hung on racks.

Image credit: Kyle Wiggers/TechCrunch

But I wasn’t in the pool. After arriving and pouring a cup of coffee, I sat down on a thick leather sofa next to Niantic’s head of global marketing, Glenn Chin, and All-World’s senior producer, Marcus Matthews. he walked around for a day. Ahead of release on Play Store and App Store.

I started with the obvious question: Why are you playing basketball for Niantic now? this Is sports the next AR venture? In a blunt answer, Chin pointed out that licensing deals with international organizations like the NBA are much easier to conclude as opposed to different football federations, for example. But he and Matthews, who grew up playing basketball in downtown Jacksonville, Florida, also repeatedly emphasized the communal aspect of basketball.

With an emphasis on social, the development team behind All-World has followed in GO’s footsteps. Beyond the sheer brand power of Pokémon, GO resonated because of the compelling mix of shared and competitive experiences it offers. (Think of a gym fight with a stranger. Rare Pokemon Mad Dash.) It’s a familiar formula tweak, albeit with some twists and adaptations to meet the expectations of the audience playing the game today.

Niantic Allworld

Image credit: Niantic

Similar to GO, players around the world can explore their neighborhoods for collectibles, power-ups, and various other items of interest.Exploring requires a physical walk to a location — this is teeth It’s a Niantic game, after all, and you navigate menus with tap- and swipe-based gestures. Within 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 worked with Niantic to develop the experience. Mike Taramykin, CEO of HypGames, until 2013 he was vice president and his GM at EA’s Tiger Woods franchise.

All-World layers power-ups, challenges, gear, boosts, in-game currency, and more on top of the real-world map around the player. When Matthews demoed the game to me, he wasn’t very close to the compound, but he was able to get a moolah that he could use for apparel on his NBA player avatar.

The core mechanic of All-World is recruiting players who can “level up” to become “rulers” of their local basketball courts. (There are currently over 100,000 of his courts in the game.) Players can challenge each other to three-point shootouts and other timing his base mini-games that recreate real-world courts. increase. This not only increases the level of the player’s recruits, but also the level of the entire team. level.

The team level serves as a merit-based stand-in for real-world salary caps. The higher the level, the stronger the NBA players that All-World players can recruit.

Niantic Allworld

Image credit: Kyle Wiggers/TechCrunch

Adjacent to this, All-World has a strong merchandising component. Players can search for “drops” such as jerseys (a la highest) from brands such as Adidas and Nike that reflect real-world SKUs. His members of the in-game team wear this goodies, some of which improve their game stats. Chin said there are also plans to work with additional brands to create and recreate accessories, balls, clothing and sneakers to create Time His Drops in line with physical product launches.

Merchandise mechanics were built to reflect and honor basketball fan frenzy About collectibles, say Chin and Matthews. I do not doubt that fact. But there are also obvious profit motives. All-World may be free to play, but it’s certainly not a charity.

Another case in point, Niantic also plans to make money by selling “boosts” of player stats, such as attack and defense, that improve mini-game performance. Chin and Matthews do not deny that artillery players can progress through certain aspects of the entire world faster. need Fork cash if they play relatively often.

Niantic Allworld

Image credit: Niantic

I don’t know yet. I’ve only had a glimpse of the game, but unfortunately, during the demo, I experienced a freezing issue. Not good. Super crowded mobile market.

At All-World, Niantic is betting on both the strength of the NBA brand and the appeal of AR. Being ignorant of the sport, I can’t speak to the former point.I would argue that technology is just beginning — especially rumor Apple’s headset will someday come true.

If Niantic can keep All-World fresh and interesting with engaging AR-focused gameplay, it might have a fighting chance. (My impression is that it’s a bit light on content at the moment, but to be fair, it’s fast. I don’t think it’ll be at the top of the download charts for long.

As for what All-World’s success or failure does for Niantic, it doesn’t necessarily ruin or make a company. Niantic sells the Lightship platform as a paid service to developers. And GO is still doing well (pun intended), with revenue estimated at him over $1 billion. On top of that, Niantic raised $300 million in November 2021 at a valuation of $9 billion. That’s more than double his 2018 valuation.

But after years of development, it will undoubtedly be a disappointment for the studio, and for the NBA’s headphone chorus, who apparently trust Niantic’s ability to spin viral magic.

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