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The future of AR games. Little is left of the Pokémon Go hype.

AR games like Pokémon Go have had a rough time in recent years.


Six years have passed since the release of Pokémon Go. Back then, people spoke of the pioneers of new mobile games. Things are a bit different today.

In the summer of 2016, thousands of people took to the streets and used their cell phones to hunt Pokémon. Particularly eager collectors have armed themselves with several power banks to solve the battery problem. You chatted up complete strangers in the parks before stocking up on Poké Balls at various stops. As a result, augmented reality (AR) has become mainstream.

The connection between the real and digital world was new territory for many users, which is why the game inspired so many people. But as the game has evolved over the years, only die-hard Pokémon hunters can be found in the cities today.

The hype is over, but Pokémon Go hasn’t exactly flopped. Since its release, the game has pumped over $3 billion into Niantic’s developer coffers. To date, the sales figures are still solid, because the remaining players are happy to pull out their wallets for additional in-game items.

However, Pokémon Go did not become the long-awaited pioneer. Other augmented reality games based on a similar game concept have not even come close to the success of Pokémon Go. And this despite the fact that the developers also used famous franchises such as Harry Potter, Minecraft or Jurassic Park.

External factors are correct

But what happened? What did the developers do wrong that you can’t use this hype for new blockbusters? Six years later, outdoor play is actually a timeless promise. Especially in a summer like this. In addition, since the release of Pokémon Go, various external factors have been constantly improved. In 2016, for example, 5G was not standard mobile coverage in Switzerland. Better batteries and chips also make mobile gaming more and more enjoyable.

Niantic, still the leading developer of augmented reality games and a former subsidiary of Google, recently cut about 90 jobs and shut down many game projects, according to Bloomberg. The reason for this step was only vague: I wanted to focus more on the most important priorities.

Of course, the developers have to be credited for being affected by the corona virus in recent years. Unlike virtual reality, augmented reality tends to bring people together and go beyond them. Not quite what was in demand at the height of the pandemic. Still, it would be a bit trite to blame only Covid for the development of AR games.

When Niantic talks about top priorities, they may also be referring to improving the quality of AR games. Because despite the fact that Pokémon Go has constantly evolved and various modes and multiplayer abilities have been integrated into the game, in the end it just remained the mundane game that it has always been. With the same swipe, you throw balls at random Pokemon. Hundreds of times, thousands of times. Those who still actively play Pokemon Go probably won’t be doing it for that reason, but rather out of a desire to collect or compete with thoughts.

Other AR games haven’t gotten much further in this regard. With AR basketball, you just throw basketballs in the air instead of pokeballs, with shooters you tap on targets that appear a little more real thanks to the cell phone camera in our garden or at the bus stop. In fact, however, the mechanics of these games are just as advanced as the arcade machines were in the 80’s.

Nothing more than a marketing gimmick?

If we’re going to criticize that, it’s also fair to say that AR didn’t even make Pokemon Go that successful. It was fun at first to take a few screenshots of Pokemon sitting in nearby bushes or maybe on a lawn chair, but most players said goodbye after 10 minutes at most. Also for the sake of your battery. Augmented Reality was more of a marketing gimmick than a real game improvement.

Rather, GPS technology and the vast amounts of data from Google have turned Pokémon Go into a new kind of digital scavenger hunt. In that regard, AR games have a much longer way to go than you might think. While AR is already doing well in shopping and education, augmented reality may not be the holy grail for gaming, so Niantic’s efforts may be more focused on the Metaverse.

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