One of the most exciting upcoming games is Pokémon GO, a mobile game where you capture and battle Pokémon in the real world with augmented reality. The game is developed by Niantic, well-known for the game Ingress, but before the developers were Niantic, they were a group working within Google.

You may remember back on April Fools’ Day in 2014, Google held a
Pokémon Challenge in which players could capture Pokémon in the real world by zooming in and tapping them on Google Maps; that was the group now known as Niantic. In fact, that fun little April Fool’s Day helped them establish a relationship with The Pokémon Company, and eventually it led to Niantic CEO John Hanke meeting Tsunekazu Ishihara, the President of The Pokémon Company.

Famitsu: I think with the practical use of location information, Ingress became a game that gives birth to a whole new genre. Like with Ingress, Pokemon GO, which will also practically use position information, has been announced to be developed by Niantic. How did this project come to be realized?

Murai: We’ve touched about it briefly before (when talking about Ingress), but before we went independent, we were a group in charge of [handling] Google Maps in Google. Do you remember that we had a “Pokemon Challenge” for April Fools in 2014?

Famitsu: Yes. It’s when the ability to search for Pokemon appearing in Google Maps, and you could get Pokemon on the map. I see, so that’s where you became acquainted.

Murai: Yes. That Pokemon Challenge was a chance for us to be able to build relations with people at Pokemon, and then (Pokemon) president (Tsunekazu) Ishihara and John (Hanke, CEO of Niantic) were able to meet and talk. At that time both of their thoughts and visions were also very close, and as a union of their spirit, the talk became “Let’s do something together in the future”.

Famitsu: When president Ishihara and CEO John Hanke met, was Ingress already released?

Murai: Yes. It was just released, and barely anybody in Japan knew about Ingress yet at that time. However, president Ishihara already played it, and he talked a lot with John.

Famitsu: So what about the chance meeting for Pokemon Challenge itself? I remember it was a very surprising collaboration between Google and Pokemon.

Murai: In Google, there’s a culture where the staff release ideas for April Fools, then they make their own teams to realize those. But for Pokemon Challenge, it was a staff member named Tatsuo Nojima who pulled out that idea, and he became the center of the development.

Suga: I have some acquaintances by chance, so I became the mediator between Google and The Pokemon Company.

Murai: Right now, Nomura is a product manager at Niantic who is involved in Pokemon GO’s development.

Famitsu: One could say it’s a large-scale sense of fun just for April Fools…

Suga: I think that kind of culture is one of Google’s assets.

Murai: As a result of that Niantic was born, and saying ‘that sense of fun got connected to products like Ingress and Pokemon GO’ wouldn’t be too exaggerated.

What started out as some people at Google having fun has turned into an exciting development company with one of the most hotly-anticipated upcoming games!

Source: Nintendo Everything

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Ben Lamoreux

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