Niantic, a maker of games people play by trekking around their neighborhoods and cities, is bringing in two new investors, the Pokémon Company and Nintendo, after completing its spinoff from Google.
Niantic, based in San Francisco, said it raised $20 million from Pokémon, Nintendo and Google, and could receive an additional $10 million if it reaches certain undisclosed goals related to a new game. That game, announced last month, is Pokémon Go, which people will play by roaming around in public using a mobile app based on the popular Pokémon children’s entertainment brand.
It was always a little puzzling that a game project formed inside Google, but Niantic did not make an ordinary game. Its first effort, Ingress, was a game designed to be played in the real world using a couple of technologies that Google had a huge interest in, smartphones and online maps. It was no coincidence that the founder of Niantic, John Hanke, used to run the Google Geo team, which includes maps, after the company acquired his previous start-up, Keyhole.
In the science-fiction story line around Ingress, players must go out into the real world and locate and capture “portals” for their teams. The portals are visible to players through the Ingress app on their smartphones and can be located in parks, sculptures, murals and other public locations.
Here’s a video showing how Ingress is played:
Ingress Explainer Video
The Ingress app has been downloaded more than 13 million times and is played in hundreds of countries (the top three are the United States, Japan and Germany). On occasions, thousands of Ingress players have met to play the game together.
The concept behind Ingress is still alien to a lot of people. In a phone interview, Mr. Hanke said the deal with Pokémon, which has a fan base of millions, could greatly help raise awareness of the types of games Niantic makes.
“What we’re looking to do is grow the whole category of real-world games,” he said. “A lot of the challenge of Ingress is simply explaining to people what it is.”
Pokémon Go, which will be available next year, can also be played with the aid of a wearable bracelet that connects wirelessly to smartphones. With a pin-shaped centerpiece that resembles the pins on Google Maps, the bracelet will alert players when there are Pokémon characters lurking in locations nearby so that they can catch them.
Nintendo’s investment in Niantic is another sign that the company is gradually investing more in mobile games. Nintendo, which also owns a stake in the Pokémon Company, refused for years to bring its game franchises to smartphones. In March, the company finally gave in, and announced a partnership with DeNA, a Japanese mobile games publisher, to bring Nintendo brands to mobile devices.
The spinout of Niantic is a more extreme version of the structural changes that Google announced in August, when it said it was forming a new holding company, Alphabet, to oversee a broad array of businesses, of which Google search is the most mature and profitable.
Just days, after the announcement of Alphabet, Niantic said in a post that it would go even further, spinning off from Google completely.
“That’s kind of a theme at Google, to take businesses that are not search and give them more independence,” Mr. Hanke said. “We’re kind of at the vanguard of that.”