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"It was really very simply to take that MMO experience and hopefully the social-team cooperative gameplay element to that and bring it out into the real world."
- Niantic founder John Hanke traces the roots of Pokémon Go predecessor Ingress back to his work on '90s MMORPGs.
Everyone seems to be playing and talking about Niantic's augmented reality mobile game Pokémon Go this week, affording game designer and occasional Gamasutra blogger Raph Koster a strong example of how AR games have many of the same strengths -- and design challenges -- of MMO games.
In a recent interview with Game Informer, Niantic founder John Hanke cements the argument that Pokémon Go and other AR games are basically MMOs by tracing his own game industry history back to Archetype Interactive, where he worked on one of the industry's first 3D MMORPGS: Meridian 59.
"I had a chance to soak in the early days of MMOs and some of the first online guilds that got formed and watching the whole social dynamic of that type of game emerge in the early days," Hanke told Game Informer. "That experience was definitely at the front of my mind whenever the concept for Ingress was being created."
Ingress, of course, is the AR game Niantic launched in late 2012 when the company was still part of Google. The game became one of the highlights of Google's games program, attracting a decent playerbase worldwide and collecting a trove of real-world map data that was eventually shared with game developers.
According to Hanke, there were a fair number of Ingress players who worked at The Pokemon Company -- including the CEO and his wife -- which helped cement the deal to mesh Ingress with Pokémon and create Pokémon Go after Niantic spun out from Google last year.
Now that Pokémon Go has quickly surpassed Ingress to top the charts of most downloaded and top-grossing iOS apps, Hanke makes a point of noting that the game will be supported and maintained like a traditional MMO -- rather than iterated upon like a typical Pokémon game.
"In terms of there being a Silver or a Ruby Red, or whatever, our current focus is just on enhancing and improving Pokémon Go. It is an MMO, so it is something we’re committed to regular updates," said Hanke. "We treat it as an ever-evolving game. It’s not something that just sort of minted and then issued on launch day and not changed."
For more of Hanke's comments, as well as some further insight into how Pokémon Go is built upon the bones of Ingress (right down to the locations of gyms and other in-game landmarks), check out the full interview over on Game Informer.