Niantic introduces the Lightship AR dev platform

Hmm—I want to get excited here, but as I’ve previously detailed, I’m finding it tough.

Pokemon Go remains the one-hit wonder of the location-based content/gaming space. That being true 5+ years after its launch, during which time Niantic has launched & killed Harry Potter Wizard Unite; Microsoft has done the same with Minecraft Earth; and Google has (AFAIK) followed suit with their location-based gaming API, I’m not sure that we’ll turn a corner until real AR glasses arrive.

Still & all, here it is:

The Niantic Lightship Augmented Reality Developer Kit, or ARDK, is now available for all AR developers around the world at To celebrate the launch, we’re sharing a glimpse of the earliest AR applications and demo experiences from global brand partners and developer studios from across the world.

We’re also announcing the formation of Niantic Ventures to invest in and partner with companies building the future of AR. With an initial $20 million fund, Niantic Ventures will invest in companies building applications that share our vision for the Real-World Metaverse and contribute to the global ecosystem we are building. To learn more about Niantic Ventures, go to

It’s cool that “The Multiplayer API is free for apps with fewer than 50,000 monthly active users,” and even above that number, it’s free to everyone for the first six months.

2 thoughts on “Niantic introduces the Lightship AR dev platform

  1. I keep coming back to this as well and keep landing on this framing: what element is the limiting factor?

    1. The APIs: Querying POIs and routing is…meh? Even Pokemon Go doesn’t really interact with the underlying metadata; it sees that something is there and puts a hub there. It doesn’t know or use the fact that it’s a historical marker, Walmart, etc. Most games that do try to use the underlying POI are tedious because maps are a hairball of edge cases. You’d need a massive team, massive simplification (as Pokemon Go does), or a very tight geographical boundary to do it right.
    2. Developer Imagination: There hasn’t been much of a market here, save Pokemon Go, to incentivize developers to spent time thinking about location gaming concepts. So they only ever touch it on a surface level.
    3. The Location Gaming Genre Itself: Maybe the extent of today’s developer imagination isn’t far off from the full potential! Maybe location gaming as a genre is just not as interesting (or fun!) as we think. A lot of work for a mediocre experience.
    4. The Hardware: Between location tech (geolocating, microlocation, mesh-location) and interface recognition (both camera recognition and voice recognition), we’re just not there yet. Things are too finicky, which leads to breaking the suspension of disbelief and user enjoyment.

    Right now, I think we’re stuck with item 1 and 2 holding everything back. Those pushing out APIs (Google, MapBox, Niantic) are doing so while shrugging their shoulders and praying that developers figure out what to do with them. Meanwhile, devs don’t have an incentive to become GIS experts in short order, which really is the learning curve we’re talking about here.

    This is a major disconnect from the industry, which is putting tons of work into hardware first. (Except Niantic, which I think is taking the right approach here: put out interesting APIs (not just POI) and create a market by incenting developers with grants).

    Location analysis, and therefore location interaction, is HARD. I don’t work in gaming but do work in location data and making it make sense in interesting ways is not turnkey yet.

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