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Best of Galaxy Store Awards 2019 Winner: Get Outside with Niantic Labs' Greg Borrud

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We continue to celebrate the top performing apps in creativity, quality, design, and innovation, as we interview winners of our Best of Galaxy Store Awards. Today, we're talking with Greg Borrud from Niantic about building games that take players out of their homes and into the real world.

Tell us about Niantic

Niantic is probably best known as the developer of Pokémon GO, but we are much more than that! Niantic is an Augmented Reality company that helps get people out into the world - exploring with others and having meaningful and engaging experiences. We are both a game developer/publisher as well as a technology company focused on bringing new games and experiences to the world through location-based and AR technology.

Can you share how Niantic has pioneered real world gaming experiences?

It started with Ingress - a game that asked you to go out and battle for control of points of interest in the real world. This then exploded with the launch of Pokémon GO in 2016. We all remember packs of people searching for Pokémon throughout their neighborhoods. We have continued to evolve our Real World Platform with more information about the world (we’ve mapped hundreds of millions of places around the world so far), with a focus on creating new gameplay experiences that encourage people to go outside and explore.

Your premise has been to include a combination of maps and gaming in your app development. Can you share how this is done?

We’ve built a robust platform that is a map of all the unique and interesting places in our world. This map is curated and updated by our players all the time and we strive to keep it as accurate as we can. That forms the foundation for our new game development. We want to have a wide variety of games and experiences, so we don't have too many restrictions on what a Niantic product can be. We want to let the creativity of our teams and our developer partners lead us to entirely new gameplay concepts.

What programming languages do you use in development of your games?

We use a variety of languages depending on what part of the code our engineers are working in. We primarily develop in C# for the player’s device and Java for our servers. Occasionally we'll also use C++ or a scripting language like Python.

At Niantic, your work represents the culmination of decades of obsessing about geospatial technology. How important is this technology to your game experiences?

Critically important. Our games are a reflection of the real world. They literally take you outside, exploring neighborhoods and cities, so without precise mapping, we couldn’t build what we offer today. We often hear stories from our Pokémon GO community about how walking with our games has uncovered hidden gems and historic monuments in their neighborhoods that they never knew existed. Our next area of focus is building a dynamic 3D map of the world so that we can progressively layer in augmented reality and other features into our games to make exploring the world more interesting and fun. At the end of the day, the game/experience needs to be fun no matter what technology it is built on top of.


You have developed some of the biggest game titles, including Pokémon GO and Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, winner of the Best of Galaxy Store Awards 2019 for Best AR Game. How does Augmented Reality enhance your games and bring them to life?

AR allows us to turn the world outside your door into one of the most amazing, dynamic game boards you can imagine. Through AR, your world can be filled with Pokémon or Wizards. And we’re just in the infancy of what AR can offer. We’re excited to share some of the new AR technologies we are cooking up.

Your games are highly rated on the Galaxy Store. How do you maintain your games' quality?

We try to learn from and listen to our players as much as we can. Although it’s impossible to please everyone all of the time, we do take player feedback very seriously, and we are constantly striving to improve our games by listening, then iterating fast.

How has the Galaxy Store badge supported your game discovery on the Galaxy Store?

The Galaxy Store badge is supported on a variety of our marketing materials, including the product's website, so players know the game is available on their preferred platform.

With all of your success, do you still experience challenges when developing your games?

That is one of the great things about making games - there are always new challenges. As technologies, devices, and player preferences evolve, we are challenged every single day we come to work. You have to love (and live for) challenges if you want to be happy in this industry.

Are there common errors made by developers while programming games?

A common error is not testing in a way that replicates a player’s real experience. When tested in isolation, something might ‘work’. But the key is constant testing while looking through the lens of the players.

What advice do you have for indie developers attempting to develop a successful game business?

Start with a small, simple game loop and build it. Get it into the hands of your friends and then iterate. It’s an incredible world for game developers right now, as the ability to build something on your own has never been easier. I’m a firm believer in learning by doing.

As you continue to pioneer new technologies and gameplay mechanics, what trends do you expect to see?

As our mapping and AR technologies continue to evolve and converge, we envision a 3D map of the world that will truly be the ultimate game board. If we can pair that with wearable devices in the future, we believe we will develop new entertainment experiences unlike anything you have seen before.

What is ahead for Niantic?

We’ve got a lot of exciting stuff coming in the near term. As the end of June nears, we’re fast approaching our first anniversary of Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, which put magic in the hands of witches and wizards all around the world last summer. For that product, we’re thinking of some exciting new ways to immerse players in the wizarding world with new upcoming features, content releases, and fun in-game events.

The fourth anniversary of Pokémon GO is also approaching this July, and we’ve reimagined our tentpole Pokémon GO Fest event to be playable by the global player base on July 25-26th, wherever they may be. Over the past four years, Trainers have accomplished some amazing feats; notably walking a collective 28 billion kilometers and making over 280 billion visits to unique points of interest around the world.

In the long term, our ultimate goal is to create meaningful and purposeful gameplay experiences. We think these will come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, and to that extent we have more than 10 new games and AR experiences in different stages of development. We hope to release two new titles in the next six months, with a goal to sustain that cadence annually. We hope these experiences will have a long lasting impact on those who play them.

Thanks to Greg Borrud for sharing how Niantic creates successful game franchises. Follow us on Twitter @samsung_dev for more developer interviews and tips for building games, apps, and more for the Galaxy Store. Find out more about our Best of Galaxy Store Awards.

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