Niantic, the virtual reality platform behind games like Pokémon GO, secured $300 million from Coatue, putting the company’s value at $9 billion. The money will be used to construct the “real-world metaverse”.
Earlier in August, the Niantic founder and CEO John Hanke described the metaverse as a“dystopian nightmare”, one that binds us to VR headsets like in “Ready Player One.” Niantic, unlike Facebook, which changed its name to Meta to reflect its involvement in virtual reality technology, seeks to develop technology that connects individuals to the outside world.
Niantic announced the Lightship AR Developer Kit (ARDK) earlier this month, which makes tools for developing AR games publicly available for free to anyone with a basic understanding of the Unity game engine.
“At Niantic, we believe that the happiest humans are those whose virtual world leads them to a physical world,” Hanke stated at the time. “Unlike a science fiction metaverse, a real-world metaverse will use technology to enhance our understanding of the reality we’ve known for thousands of years.”
The money will go toward expanding the ARDK, which has already been used to build augmented reality experiences for Coachella, Historic Royal Palaces, Universal Pictures, SoftBank, Warner Music Group, and the PGA of America. As a result, rather than relying on technology like VR headsets, which are currently out of reach for the majority of the public, AR projects mostly rely on smartphones to inspire people to explore their surroundings.
“Niantic is developing an augmented reality platform based on a 3D model of the environment that we believe will be essential in the next computing revolution,” said Matt Mazzeo, a general partner at Coatue. “We’re pleased to collaborate with Niantic because we envisage this infrastructure supporting a metaverse for the real world and powering the internet’s next generation.”
Although Hanke considers the VR metaverse to be “dystopian,” AR, like any technology, has flaws. Pikmin Bloom, Niantic’s newest game, is built around walking, which may be off-putting to older or disabled gamers. Disabled Pokémon GO players exist, but they’ve had to speak out about how specific aspects of the game affect them.
Nonetheless, Niantic’s vision is a viable alternative to Meta’s headset-reliant strategy. According to app analytics firm Sensor Tower, Pokémon GO is still a tremendous hit, with sales exceeding $1 billion in 2020 and on track to exceed that this year. Not all of its games are as popular; the business just announced that Harry Potter: Wizards Unite will be shut down due to a 57 percent reduction in in-app consumer expenditure and overall yearly installs.