By Akshay Asija
Pokémon Go is a mobile game unlike any other. A unique, augmented reality (AR) based gameplay, coupled with the popularity of the Pokémon franchise propelled the game to the top of all major app stores within a week of its release, last year. Less than a month after it released, Pokémon Go amassed more than $200 million, a first for a mobile game. Its rapid success sent Nintendo’s share prices soaring, despite the fact that the game was developed by a different company (Niantic, Inc.) and that Nintendo owns only a part of The Pokémon Company.
The novelty and initial curiosity of Pokémon Go soon began to wear off, though. The game’s usage started declining after July 15, 2016 (about a week after its launch) and by September, more than half the players had stopped playing it. Occasional in-game events and the addition of newer Pokémon (second generation and shiny Pokémon were added early this year) have managed to keep at least some players’ interest alive, but Pokémon Go is still in a state of decline. Needless to say, revenues from the game are not as good as they used to be.
AR+: The update
The game’s negative trajectory and criticism (mainly due to the accidents caused by its players) has not deterred Niantic from improving and updating it with new features. In the latest such update announced on December 20, Pokémon Go will be optimized with Apple’s ARKit developer framework. ARKit is a part of Apple’s iOS 11 operating system and will enable a new “AR+ mode” in the game. This mode will have much more advanced augmented reality features than the ones the game currently has.
Using the update
iOS developers can use ARKit to leverage the hardware and software of an iPhone (or iPad) in an efficient and unique way, by intelligently placing virtual objects in the real world. Niantic is using these APIs to secure Pokémon in the camera viewfinder of the device with greater accuracy. The company is also using the information about the physical sizes of different Pokémon (which is stored in the game’s database) to render those more accurately. Thanks to the AR+ mode, Pokémon will not only appear more lifelike but also better positioned, since approximations will no longer be used in placing these creatures in the real world. The AR+ mode, which is an iOS exclusive for now (obviously), also introduces a new capture bonus, called “Expert Handler”. Under this new scheme, users who capture a Pokémon by sneaking close to it, while being careful to not scare it away, gain more XP and Stardust, which can later be used for upgrades.
Niantic hopes that the AR+ mode will increase the number of active players of Pokémon Go, and give them a concrete reason to keep its AR mode on. The AR mode has, so far, been unpopular amongst players as it makes the gameplay difficult and drains the battery of the device significantly. According to the company, the AR+ mode, because of its reliance on ARKit, is not as heavy on the battery as the original AR mode. Using Apple’s augmented reality tech has helped Niantic make a more efficient use of the game engine while delivering noticeable performance improvements.
The future of Pokémon Go
The arrival of the AR+ mode on the Android version of Pokémon Go depends on when Google launches the finished version of the ARCore developer platform, its direct competitor to ARKit. As of this writing, ARCore is still in a developer preview phase. One thing is certain though: Pokémon Go will be at the forefront of new and innovative AR experiences.
Featured Image Source: Pexels
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