Interview Niantic Ceo John Nianticsullivan: Niantic CEO John Hanke and Piper Hoffman of the Boston Globe discuss how Niantic’s metaverse vision could become a dystopian nightmare, and where they think the company is headed.
Hoffman: As we’ve discussed, augmented reality is a disruptive technology that has the potential to disrupt the internet as we know it. What do you think is driving this transformation?
Hanke: It’s an immersive experience that is easy and fun. It’s a whole new way of engaging with digital content, much in the way video was back in 1983 when people first watched TV on their computers.
Hoffman: But is that what the dystopian vision looks like? If you don’t want to take my word for it, please describe the nightmare scenario.
Hanke: We’ll probably see dominance by developers who dominate in a particular space. They will have stronger capabilities than a potential competitor or group of rivals, because they are able to use their resources better and are able to keep their systems running. This can create a relatively closed world where there’s very little competition or interaction among users. The system is a bit like a closed socialist economy.
Hoffman: Does this kind of model work in mobile games? It hasn’t been tried yet, but it’s not that hard to imagine. Would you support the idea, for instance?
Hanke: I’ve always felt that games can help us understand economies. So I believe there is room for games and other entertainment to be substantial parts of education, especially when people are engaged in learning something new.
Hoffman: So if the world becomes a place where games and education are inseparable, will people actually be learning anything? Or is it possible that people could become so engrossed in their virtual universe where they may not interact with reality at all them?
Hanke: I think that’s going to be up to the developers. If people are meant to play for eight hours a day, than by all means go for it. I don’t think that’s the most interesting outcome. But if it turns out that people want to be engaged in a metaverse, then I think they should make it as compelling as possible and design it with care.
Hoffman: So you are saying that the end result of augmented reality needs to have some sort of balance between real life and fantasy?
Hanke: I would say that the product needs to be designed responsibly, which is what we’ve done. Our game keeps people engaged with their surroundings.
Hoffman: What is your vision for the metaverse? How do you think it will be used by young adults?
Hanke: Right now, we are seeing our users play the game more frequently than any other mobile game out there. That tells me that this is a segment of mobile users who want to engage with digital content in a very immersive way. When I see that happening, I think about what could be next for them. I don’t think it has to be a different type of game. I think there’s a need for more immersive experiences where people can really feel presence in their areas. The whole idea is to make the experience richer.
Hoffman: So what’s the next step?
Hanke: We are most interested in pursuing technologies and products that let us bring more people together with more content, in more places. That is our ultimate goal.
Hoffman: Are there any other products or industries that are being disrupted by augmented reality?
Hanke: It’s hard to say what products will be impacted. Augmented reality will be really powerful for education, for life-long learning. Retailers may find that it will help them engage with their customers. It’s really about finding ways to bring people together with great content in interesting ways.