The Engineering Technology Behind Pokemon Go

Have you ever wondered how Pokemon Go found its way into your phones?


Unless you’ve been hiding under several layers of rock for the past year, you’ve certainly heard of Pokemon Go.   You or someone you know has probably veered off a road or two, chasing what you thought was a Pikachu, only to find it was a Pidgey (stupid Pidgeys).  You’ve probably seen news stories about individuals who crashed their cars to chase after imaginary monsters. Unlike any mobile game before it, people now consider “Pokemoning” an acceptable way to spend a Saturday night out with friends.  If you’re like me, you’ve probably wondered about the engineering behind such a monumentally popular game.  I took a look into the “evolution” of Pokemon Go, pun intended, to see the groundwork and the growth that made such a game possible.

Source: Polygon

From the Ashes of Keyhole

Keyhole, Inc., founded in 2001 by the visionary John Hanke, was a company that specializes in geospatial data visualization.  Geospatial data visualization, as it sounds, is a fancy way of saying they were one of the first companies to create 3D maps using data.   Their initial backers included the likes of graphics card manufacturer nVidia and the Central Intelligence Agency.   Keyhole would be acquired by Google in 2004 for $35 million.  Their flagship product, a suite of geospatial mapping technology called Earth Viewer, would evolve into the revolutionary application called Google Earth.  Hanke spent his time afterward heading up Google’s Geo division, which also produced Google Maps, Streetview, and Sketchup.

Source: Height Weights

In 2010, Hanke created another startup called Niantic Labs under Google’s ever-growing umbrella of smaller companies, and began work on a game that used the extensive geospatial knowledge of him and his team.   This game would be called Ingress, released in 2012.  Ingress was marketed as a massively-multiplayer online game (MMOG) that allowed players to find items in the real world and interact with them using their mobile devices.  Users could seek out virtual “portals”, which were usually around real-world landmarks and local places of interest, and compete against opposing factions to accumulate power.  Ingress’ popularity skyrocketed, reaching half-a-million active users around 2013.  Players would take matters beyond what even Hanke had anticipated, forming communities of like-minded enthusiasts who would charter planes to reach portals in remote areas and would dedicate specific days out of the year to portal hunting.

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Source: Android Community

Source: Twimgs

Source: Variety

Software Engineering

If the description of Ingress sounds familiar—players seeking real world locations to collect exotic items and compete for dominance of a physical region—it’s because Pokemon Go was based off it.  The software engineering component of Pokemon Go began with Google Earth itself, meaning Niantic’s developers aren’t just game designers who acquired a third-party mapping program and built a revolutionary game on top of it; they are map-makers who used an already uber-popular franchise to catapult their framework into the hands of everyone.  A lot of companies may have had the idea to use the environment for an augmented reality game, but none had the resources of Google’s Geo division and Nintendo’s blessing (and investment).

Source: Guelph Today

Social Engineering

Beyond the numerous records that Pokemon Go continues to set each day it exists, there is the genius behind it that exceeds the software engineering component and propels it into legend, and that is the social engineering part.  Niantic had an idea of how the game would expand based on public reaction to Ingress, so they pushed the envelope in marketing campaigns that were targeted toward promoting activity and interaction among users.  Those who played games and interacted with other game players would handle their word-of-mouth marketing without provocation, and the demographics of these players expanded according to Pokemon’s unique ability to appeal to niche groups of adults.  Non-gamer adults latched on simply because the game provided them with something interesting to do while they went about mundane errands.  The bridge between the young and the old would fuel the game’s momentum, which generated intrigue and bring even more players into the fray.  Essentially, the game’s popularity became its hook; those who weren’t playing would hear about it from everyone who was, all the time, until eventually they felt left out and joined out of.   This was all part of a genius plan, one that began with Google Earth and evolved into Ingress, which evolved into the phenomenon that is Pokemon Go.

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Source: Toms Guide

Emmanuel Stalling
Emmanuel Stalling is software engineer, technical writer, online philosopher, aspiring novelist, part-time ninja, and fan of hard science fiction. Based in Charlotte, NC, USA.

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The Engineering Technology Behind Pokemon Go

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