Pokémon Go creator Niantic acquires London gaming studio Sensible Object to create UK outpost

Amelia Heathman
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Pokémon Go creator Niantic acquires London gaming studio Sensible Object to create UK outpost

Gaming studio Sensible Object, which uses augmented reality and voice AI to create connected games, has been acquired by AR gaming company Niantic, the makers of Pokémon Go, in an undisclosed deal. The acquisition will see Alex Fleetwood, founder and CEO of Sensible Object, move over to head up Niantic’s new London studio, alongside 12 members of staff from the start-up. “Niantic has been the pioneer in successful world-scale AR games. Pokémon Go is the stand out success and two years after launch, it’s still an incredibly successful game. We’re really excited to start making games on the Niantic real-world AR platform and to see what kind of new and innovative ideas we can bring to that,” Fleetwood tells the Standard. Sensible Object is Fleetwood’s second games studio – his first was Hide&Seek, which created mobile outdoor experiences for clients including Tate Modern and PlayStation. As the Internet of Things (IoT) world began to take off in 2014, he saw a space for a studio that combined physical and digital games which became Sensible Object. Its first game, a connected board game called Beasts of Balance raised over £165,000 on Kickstarter. Fleetwood had met Niantic’s CEO John Hanke back when he was working on Hide&Seek and the two had stayed in touch. After the 2018 Christmas season, Fleetwood says the conversation of an acquisition came up between the two of them which eventually led to today’s news.Niantic is the world leader in consumer AR and it’s going to get bigger. The company is in the midst of the launch process for its new game, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, which will allow gamers to play as wizards, learning spells and exploring their neighbourhoods to discover and fight legendary beasts from the hit series. With the advent of 5G technology too, which will allow for higher data transfers and low latency rates – two tech elements that are key to gaming, we have barely scratched the surface of what AR can do. Fleetwood won’t reveal any details about the games the London studio will work on but he says they plan to “think experimentally and be innovative with the platform.” “There are incredible advances happening in machine learning, computer vision and augmented reality right now. So that really widens the possibilities of what we can achieve with the platform,” he says. “And by the time we’re launching a game in 2021 or the future, that technology will move ahead even further. So we want to be as ambitious and forward thinking about what we try to deliver as we can.” The establishment of a Niantic London studio is also a testament to the wealth of talent and creativity available in London. Last year, Niantic also acquired a computer vision start-up spun out of UCL, named Matrix Mill, which will also form part of the studio alongside the Sensible Object team. “London has a unique mix of art galleries, game companies, design agencies, tech companies all working together in interesting and different ways,” says Fleetwood. “It’s really exciting to imagine the potential of what London as a cultural city, as a gaming city, can achieve when you place that in the context of the Niantic platform.” Speaking about the acquisition, Justine Simons OBE, deputy mayor for culture and creative industries, told the Standard: “The creative industries are essential to London’s success as a global city. Our cutting-edge games industry is a wonderful example of the significant investment and jobs these thriving sectors bring to our capital and this new investment demonstrates the capital’s position as a leading city in this field.”

Gaming studio Sensible Object, which uses augmented reality and voice AI to create connected games, has been acquired by AR gaming company Niantic, the makers of Pokémon Go, in an undisclosed deal.

The acquisition will see Alex Fleetwood, founder and CEO of Sensible Object, move over to head up Niantic’s new London studio, alongside 12 members of staff from the start-up.

“Niantic has been the pioneer in successful world-scale AR games. Pokémon Go is the stand out success and two years after launch, it’s still an incredibly successful game. We’re really excited to start making games on the Niantic real-world AR platform and to see what kind of new and innovative ideas we can bring to that,” Fleetwood tells the Standard.

Sensible Object is Fleetwood’s second games studio – his first was Hide&Seek, which created mobile outdoor experiences for clients including Tate Modern and PlayStation. As the Internet of Things (IoT) world began to take off in 2014, he saw a space for a studio that combined physical and digital games which became Sensible Object.

Its first game, a connected board game called Beasts of Balance raised over £165,000 on Kickstarter.

Fleetwood had met Niantic’s CEO John Hanke back when he was working on Hide&Seek and the two had stayed in touch. After the 2018 Christmas season, Fleetwood says the conversation of an acquisition came up between the two of them which eventually led to today’s news.

Niantic is the world leader in consumer AR and it’s going to get bigger. The company is in the midst of the launch process for its new game, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, which will allow gamers to play as wizards, learning spells and exploring their neighbourhoods to discover and fight legendary beasts from the hit series.

With the advent of 5G technology too, which will allow for higher data transfers and low latency rates – two tech elements that are key to gaming, we have barely scratched the surface of what AR can do.

Fleetwood won’t reveal any details about the games the London studio will work on but he says they plan to “think experimentally and be innovative with the platform.”

“There are incredible advances happening in machine learning, computer vision and augmented reality right now. So that really widens the possibilities of what we can achieve with the platform,” he says. “And by the time we’re launching a game in 2021 or the future, that technology will move ahead even further. So we want to be as ambitious and forward thinking about what we try to deliver as we can.”

The establishment of a Niantic London studio is also a testament to the wealth of talent and creativity available in London. Last year, Niantic also acquired a computer vision start-up spun out of UCL, named Matrix Mill, which will also form part of the studio alongside the Sensible Object team.

“London has a unique mix of art galleries, game companies, design agencies, tech companies all working together in interesting and different ways,” says Fleetwood. “It’s really exciting to imagine the potential of what London as a cultural city, as a gaming city, can achieve when you place that in the context of the Niantic platform.”

Speaking about the acquisition, Justine Simons OBE, deputy mayor for culture and creative industries, told the Standard: “The creative industries are essential to London’s success as a global city. Our cutting-edge games industry is a wonderful example of the significant investment and jobs these thriving sectors bring to our capital and this new investment demonstrates the capital’s position as a leading city in this field.”