Jul 31, 2020 - Technology

Niantic COO talks running location-based games during a pandemic

Niantic COO Megan Quinn. Photo: Niantic

Niantic COO Megan Quinn. Photo: Niantic

The pandemic has disrupted businesses everywhere — just ask Niantic, maker of location-based games like Pokemon Go that typically rely on getting out of the house to move around, often in groups.

The big picture: Companies have to move fast to adjust to the current reality. For Niantic, COO Megan Quinn tells Axios, that means keeping its games playable during the pandemic, while also building toward the augmented-reality future it envisions.

Details: Niantic has quickly rewritten the rules and mechanics of its games, allowing people to do more from home, while still offering options to those who can venture out.

  • Last weekend, Niantic hosted its first ever virtual Pokemon Go Fest. The gathering is typically a physical event but was turned into a global, virtual event this year.
  • In an interview, Quinn, a former venture capitalist who joined the firm in mid-April. called it a "stellar" weekend, noting that the company sold millions of tickets at $15 apiece, with Niantic's share of the proceeds going toward Black Lives Matter and racial justice efforts.

Between the lines: It's hard enough starting a new job as COO, let alone doing so amid a pandemic where no one can be in the office.

  • But Quinn says things have actually gone pretty well, in large part because she has worked with Niantic CEO John Hanke in some capacity for much of the last two decades.
  • As a VC, Quinn was an investor in Niantic and has served as a board member.

What's next: Niantic is focused on building its underlying platform, creating its own new titles and helping other developers build their own apps using Niantic's maps and technology.

  • The company has also started early external testing of its next location-based game, an adaption of Settlers of Catan. The company has said it has 10 titles in the works (and not all are games), with plans to release two each year for the next several years.

Niantic also has ambitions beyond phones, building its platform to be ideally situated in the event augmented-reality glasses finally break through as a mainstream product.

  • As part of that, it announced a partnership with Qualcomm last year to help collaborate on reference hardware, though Quinn told Protocol the company has no interest in getting into the hardware business itself.
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