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John Hanke: VR is "too good", could be a "problem for society"

Niantic CEO calls for more games to explore augmented reality

The boss of the studio behind Pokémon Go believes the immersive nature of virtual reality actually makes the technology a potential "problem for society" rather than game-changing medium that some believe it to be.

Speaking on stage at this morning's Mixed Reality Summit, part of the London Games Festival 2017, Niantic CEO John Hanke said he prefers to focus on the benefits afforded by augmented reality, a functionality built into his studio's world-conquering hit Pokémon Go.

"My thing about VR is I'm afraid it can be too good, in the sense of being an experience that people want to spend a huge amount of time in," he said. "I mean I already have concerns about my kids playing too much Minecraft, and that's a wonderful game.

"We're human beings and there's a lot of research out there that shows we're actually a lot happier when we get exercise, when we go outside - and outside in nature in particular. I think it's a problem for us as a society if we forgo that and spend all of time in a Ready Player One-style VR universe."

Instead, he encourages developers to explore the potential for building games that use augmented reality - particularly those that require players to be outside. While not a crucial part of the game, Pokémon Go allows users to see monsters in the real world using their smartphone's camera.

"With AR, there's a huge amount of potential to do things that really do have a positive impact on people," said Hanke. "There is research about the health impact of Pokemon Go in particular but you can expand that to apply to all AR games. These games can encourage people to be more active than they would normally be. As a parent, part of my motivation for building this kind of game was to try and get my kids out of the house. I think there's a ton of good that can be done."

When asked if Niantic is considering trying its hand at virtual reality projects as well, the CEO said: "There are a lot of people out there already doing VR, so I don't think it would ever be a focus [for us]. I'm not sure AR and VR are destined to be these two separate things. These things may converge into a single set of experiences."

Virtual reality can also have a beneficial effect, of course, as proven by those using it to help people with dementia.

During the rest of the interview, Hanke also mentioned that Niantic is working on an updated version of Ingress - the title that set the template for Pokémon Go - and doubling the team working on the latter game as it prepares to add new events and more social features.

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James Batchelor avatar
James Batchelor: James is Editor-in-Chief at, and has been a B2B journalist since 2006. He is author of The Best Non-Violent Video Games
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