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A Brief History Of Pokemon Go

John Hanke believes in playing the long game. Apparently, he is a genius and he is not like us. His genius lies in his ability to keep doing the same damn thing for 20 years. The 49 years old founder of Niantic knew a thing or two about how to play the long game.

Interestingly, Pokemon Go is not the first time Hanke created something brilliant. He has been doing so for his entire career. First with Keyhole, then leading several key products for Google, then with Ingress and Niantic. He spent last 20 years of his life making augmented reality and location-based interactive games and products.

How Pokemon go started 01
How Pokemon go started 01 | Infographic by Anne Vital

Hanke’s love for interactive gaming started in 1996, so far we know. The year he applied to a Berkeley MBA. That’s when he seriously started to think about interactive gaming. Later on, Hanke co-founded a company called Keyhole, that made geospatial visualization software. Google acquired Keyhole and Hanke stayed at Google ultimately leading the development of projects like Google Earth, Google Maps, and Google StreetView.

However, Hanke did not stop there. He was not that kind of guy. He continued to pursue his interactive gaming passion and founded Niantic in 2010 in Google but as a separate company. This was and is a mystery to many. That is how Hanke founded Niantic within Google and kept it separate from Google and convinced Google to invest in it. Today, Google is one of three investors in Niantic.

How pockemon go started 02 | By Anna Vital
How pockemon go started 02 | By Anna Vital

Niantic previously launched several games. It is famous for developing and launching augmented reality mobile games. Its first such large-scale hit came with Ingress, an augmented reality massively multiplayer online location-based game developed by Niantic on 15 November 2012.

Niantic launched Pokemon Go on July 6, 2016. It has broken the all previous records of fast growing technology platforms. It has surpassed the growth record of Twitter and Tinder. In 8 countries where App is available now, people engage more with it than Facebook. Gaming industry record wise, people spend twice more time with the game than average.


How has John Hanke built such a thing? How can a game grow this fast? To answer these questions you get to look at Hanke’s obsession with augmented reality and geolocation based technology and also technological progress the world has experienced in the past few decades. Now smartphone is a ubiquitous device. And it has given an extraordinary power to millions to experience things that were not possible otherwise. Augmented reality or geo-location based game, neither of these things are new. These ideas have been here for years. But almost no one saw this coming because it was already happening.

Mohammad Ruhul Kader is a Dhaka-based entrepreneur and writer. He founded Future Startup, a digital publication covering the startup and technology scene in Dhaka with an ambition to transform Bangladesh through entrepreneurship and innovation. He writes about internet business, strategy, technology, and society. He is the author of Rethinking Failure. His writings have been published in almost all major national dailies in Bangladesh including DT, FE, etc. Prior to FS, he worked for a local conglomerate where he helped start a social enterprise. Ruhul is a 2022 winner of Emergent Ventures, a fellowship and grant program from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. He can be reached at ruhul@futurestartup.com

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