John Hanke, CEO of Niantic, the Google-developed start-up that created “Pokemon Go” — which became the second highest-earning mobile game in the world in September 2019, with almost $116 million in revenue — told CNBC the company’s approach to product design means its users are discouraged from compulsive gameplay.
“I would really look at our games as an alternative to traditional video games, because they’re designed to be played in small doses as you’re moving around outside, and they’re meant to be played together with people in real life,” he said while attending the One Young World conference in London last week. “They’re really the antithesis of sitting at home isolated, sedentary with a screen.”
“I think it’s a great example of how you can design technology that leads into positive impacts,” he added. “Technology is not inherently evil, but if you’re being led by profit and the dollar sign and you don’t have other goals, the outcome may not be great.”
Last year, the World Health Organization officially classified “gaming disorder,” or gaming addiction, as a health condition, and since the release of “Pokemon Go” in 2016, clinical treatment for video game addiction has become more widely available around the world.
Hanke noted that Niantic’s games are guided by three core principles: promoting community exploration, incorporating exercise into gameplay and encouraging real-world social interaction.
“In a game like ‘Pokemon Go’ there are hundreds of features you could build, and many would not fulfil one of those three objectives,” he said. “It’s about finding that balance between purpose and profit and pursuing both in the context of a private company. It’s not easy — it’s a constant challenge — but I do think it’s possible to combine those things.”
The CEO also emphasized the matter of user data safety, which is becoming more and more important in the gaming world. Soon after the debut of “Pokemon Go,” it was revealed that the game was giving itself permission to access users’ Google accounts, which Niantic claimed was caused by an error that it would fix as soon as possible. Cybersecurity firm Check Point Software Technologies told CNBC in 2016 that “Pokemon Go” players were at risk of cyberattacks.
Hanke, however, argued to CNBC last week that Niantic follows the European GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) standard, and that since 95% of the company’s revenue comes from in-app purchases rather than advertising, he feels the company is “well positioned” for the modern era of greater scrutiny toward firms’ treatment of user data.