Stories

Niantic's Harry Potter-size step into an augmented reality future

In this image, Tiffany Haddish stands outside on stage with the poster for Wizards Unite behind her.
Tiffany Haddish speaks at the Harry Potter: Wizards Unite Celebration Event on June 18, 2019. Photo: Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for WB Games

This week's release of "Harry Potter: Wizards Unite" isn't just the debut of a highly anticipated mobile game: it's also a glimpse into the future of augmented reality and location-based gaming.

Why it matters: This gives Niantic, which also is the San Francisco-based creator of "Ingress" and "Pokemon Go," a chance to show how it can work with partners — and begin to turn the game system it has created into a platform others companies can build upon.

Details: In an interview, Niantic CEO John Hanke said much of the "Harry Potter" gameplay, user interface and animations were developed by Warner Bros., with Niantic contributing a lot of the technology.

What's next: Hanke said that Niantic now has a rich platform built on real-world points of interest and "spawn points" along with multiplayer battle mechanics. The next step is to get more outside developers working on it.

  • "It really creates an awesome palette for a team that wants to come in and build something," Hanke said.
  • The next step in that process is a contest for developers with their own ideas on what could be built on top of that platform.
  • This week, Niantic announced 10 finalists for that effort.

The big picture: Hanke said "Wizards Unite" reflects lessons learned from "Pokémon Go."

  • The AR features, for example, don't require players to keep holding their phone in front of them, a nod to the fact that many "Pokémon Go" players turned off the feature.
  • And while "Wizards Unite" also encourages people to get out and walk, Hanke said there are more things that can be done at home or work, without having to walk outside.

Niantic is also building pieces that will become more relevant when AR moves from the phone screen to some sort of glasses, a leap that is still a bit away.

  • "We’re really excited about glasses," Hanke said. "It’s a handful of years out. Probably not next year, but probably not too far off."

Plus:

  • Hanke, who wore a Gryffindor scarf to work Thursday, said he has played a lot of Harry Potter games and promised that "Wizards Unite" comes the "closest to any of enabling that fantasy, certainly my fantasy, of becoming a wizard."
  • As for Niantic's recent move to drop Apple Watch support, Hanke said it was a question of resources that could better be used serving all players rather than a small subset. But, he said he remains "enamored" with the Apple Watch and wearables, particularly as they become standalone devices. "This is sort of a temporary retreat from this space. I suspect we will be back."
  • Watch for a "Harry Potter: Wizards Unite" event later this summer, Hanke added.

Go deeper: How to play "Harry Potter: Wizards Unite"