Although less successful with its own IP, Niantic Labs found a more profitable market in making AR games around already known franchises. Pokemon GO still remains its most successful attempt while Harry Potter: Wizards Unite still has a loyal following despite lower numbers. Niantic’s true product, however, is its “Real World” AR platform and it is brushing that up again for another Nintendo franchise, this time revolving around the even more cutesy creatures of Pikmin.
Niantic Labs’ upcoming fourth major AR title is a big deal for both companies involved. For Niantic, it will be the first title coming out of its Tokyo studio that it established in 2018. It will also be the first major AR experience to come out of the company since the somewhat disappointing launch of the Harry Potter spinoff in 2019 unless you count Catan: World Explorers.
For Nintendo, this partnership marks the company’s fourth partnership with a mobile game developer after DeNA, Cygames, and Line. The gaming giant has been criticized both by fans and even by investors for not turning its smartphone apps and games into a profit. Given the success of Pokemon GO, which was also done in collaboration with Nintendo, it probably hopes that this next mobile game will just be as lucrative.
That, however, will largely depend on the global situation by the time this still unnamed Pikmin AR game launches later this year. Niantic is keeping a tight lid, of course, but it shares that gameplay will encourage walking and make walking more fun. That’s not exactly surprising given the core mechanics of Niantic’s existing AR games.
The game, however, comes at a time when there is still some hesitation and uncertainty about such activities in many parts of the world. The pandemic has even forced Niantic Labs to modify its game mechanics to take into account certain restrictions. While parts of the world, especially in major Nintendo markets like the US and Japan, are opening up spaces, it remains to be seen if this walking-centric Pikmin AR game will be seen as a much-needed diversion or a health hazard.