The Pokémon GO panel at San Diego Comic-Con got bumped up to Hall H after the game became a global phenomenon seemingly overnight. John Hanke, head of Niantic came to the 4,000 capacity room with host Chris Hardwick to talk about the game - and promised some announcements at the start of the panel.
Hanke started by talking about the founding of Niantic - he and the programmers there are actually the people who built Google Earth. He wanted then to continue to explore maps and the world around them, and how it could be applied to gaming.
They went with AR instead of a VR experience because it’s “a way to enhance things that we already do, make everything more fun and add a little more happiness and joy and intrigue to life,” Hanke said. He’s encouraged by how the game is bringing people together, and that friends are playing together and even making new friends through the game.
They started with Ingress, a game that is similar, and recently had an event for that in Tokyo with 14,000 people in attendance.
"It was a really strange experiment," Hanke said of Ingress. They built it while they were still at google, before spinning out. "It was our first run at building a game like this. The idea was let's see what works, prove the platform and technology, then use that to build more games. We started looking at how we could bring more people in on the secret when it worked, and that's how we came to Pokemon GO.
Hardwick talked about going to the Griffith Observatory and seeing people of all ages and types playing the game, then talked about the way the Pokemon actually spawn.
"Yeah, we try to spawn the Pokemon based on where they'd actually exist in the real world," Hanke said. Water Pokemon spawn near water, for example.
Hanke declined to give numbers on their users, but "we weren't provisioned for what happened." They added servers right away, but that then added some bugs, and it was difficult to keep up.
Hardwick said that when he met Hanke yesterday, a Pikachu showed up, and he “spent the first ten minutes” of their rehearsal catching it.
Moving back to the idea that walking around is good for you, Hanke was happy that they could "roll that in" and make it a part of their fun product. "I have a ten year old who loves Minecraft, like any ten year-old. But he's begging his mom to go on 5km and 10km walks to hatch his eggs, so my wife is happy about it!"
A Now This video about how a children's hospital at University of Michigan is using the game to help get kids into physical therapy. "Obviously we're not doctors and didn't think about it from that point of view. From the perspective of us at Niantic and the team, the thing that keeps us working is to hear back stories like that."
Hanke encouraged fans to keep tweeting about it and sharing their experiences with Niantic and create a "positive cycle" to "get us as a society through the stuff that we're going through right now."
"There are a certain set of Pokemon in the game right now. There are some rare ones that haven't showed up yet that will be showing up. And there are some other ones in the universe, it's something we're excited about continuing with in the coming years," Hanke said.
"Trading is not in Pokemon GO today, but it's something we're working on bringing to the product. Don't get too excited - we need to make sure we can keep the servers up first!"
Hanke also teased that there is other functionality they want to bring to the game, including new Poke Stop customizations, including hospitals and other capabilities.
"We have probably a tenth of the ideas we had when we kicked this project off two years ago in the initial release."
Hanke confirmed the Eevee name hack, where if you name it properly you can control how it evolves. "There might be a few other Easter Eggs in there that have yet to be discovered, as well," he teased.
Hanke loves the PokeWalks that have been going on - one in San Francisco had 9,000 RSVPs to it. "Our servers were down part of that day and our team worked non stop to make sure they were up again in time for that."
Fan Q&A started and the first question was whether there could be Breeding in the game. "Interesting idea - we've not been working on it, but there has been some discussion about it."
Training update? "We said we're gonna do it, we teased it, but he wants the date! He's got a future as a project manager," Hanke said of the small giggling child who asked point blank about it. "We don't have an exact date, but it's at the top of our priority list."
Do the legendary birds have something to do with the three teams? "Yeah, they're kinda aligned with the teams, and we might have something to announce about the teams soon."
A Team Valor fan asked about whether Legendary Pokemon would be showing up at events like today, and got made fun of by Hardwick for his team. "If I could summon a Pokemon for you here right now, I would," Hanke said. "We're working hard. We haven't rolled the game out everywhere yet, we're adding countries every day. We're gonna get there, but there's no new Pokemon here today."
Hanke said they acknowledge the Gym poaching that's happening, and it's on the list of things they want to fix. The three step bug, too, "We've heard about it on the interwebs. We're aware of that one."
"We're debuting for you the leadership of Team Mystic," and her name is Blanche.
The leader of Team Instinct is a guy named Spark.
Team Valor's leader is a girl named Candela.
They'll be in the game soon, dispensing advice and "you'll be hearing from them in a variety of ways," Hanke said.
"Always spin, use the lucky eggs, and keep in mind the spirit of the game," Hanke said as closing words.