“They’re playing,” says the 49-year-old, nodding at a couple holding hands while their eyes fixate on their phones. “That guy standing with the backpack. Those people sitting over there.”
Since its July launch Pokémon GO, a free “augmented reality” game by Niantic Labs in which players capture virtual characters mapped to real-world locations, has piled up superlatives. Apple said the game had more downloads in its first week than any other app in history. One in ten Americans plays Pokémon GO daily, according to App Annie, and SurveyMonkey estimates that the game is hauling in as much as $6 million a day from in-app purchases in the U.S. alone (the game is available in 37 countries).
By 2010 Hanke wanted out and hoped to reignite his passion by exploring the possibility of combining maps with gaming. Persuaded to stay at the company by Google’s other cofounder, Larry Page, he was given personnel and resources to create a secret gaming division within Google’s San Francisco office. Hanke named his company Niantic Labs, after a ship that had taken miners to the Bay Area during the 1849 gold rush.
With the blessing of the late Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata, Hanke began development of Pokémon GO that summer, agreeing to split game revenue with the Pokémon Co. and Nintendo. (Hanke declined to reveal the specific terms.)
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