14 things you didn’t know about Pokémon Go and how it was made

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The Pikachu Pokemon balloons are seen during the 86th Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on November 22, 2012 in New York City.
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Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

It’s official: Pokémon Go is a phenomenon, to the point where even Hillary Clinton is cracking jokes about it on the campaign trail.

But while the iPhone and Android game may appear to have been an overnight success, there was a lot that went into making Pokémon Go into the hit that it is today.

Here are 14 facts you might not have known about Pokémon Go and how it came to be.


The Pokémon series got its start in 1995 with the classic “Pokémon Red and Blue” games for the original Nintendo Game Boy, before branching out into a cartoon and media empire. By the end of 2015, the Pokémon video games had sold 279 million copies. In 2015 alone, Pokémon merchandise at retail was a $2.1 billion business.

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Nintendo/Game Freak

Sources: Perfectly Nintendo and Kotaku


Pokémon Go isn’t actually the first time you could play with Nintendo characters in so-called “augmented reality.” The Nintendo 3DS and its successors have a little-used augmented reality feature that lets you aim its camera at special cards, and have 3D characters appear on the screen, kind of like Pokémon Go.

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Nintendo/YouTube

Furthermore, Pokémon isn’t actually owned by Nintendo itself — the copyright is technically jointly owned by The Pokémon Company, a joint venture between Nintendo, original game developer Game Freak, and toy-maker Creatures. It was actually The Pokémon Company, not Nintendo, who spearheaded Pokémon Go.

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Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

The world first learned of Pokémon Go from the Pokémon games’ first-ever Super Bowl ad in January 2016. It was designed to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the original Pokémon games for the Nintendo Game Boy.

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The Pokemon Company

The roots of Pokémon Go trace back to 1995, and the launch of “Meridian 59.” This was the first three-dimensional online roleplaying game, setting the tone for “World of Warcraft” almost a decade later. It was also the first game made under the leadership of John Hanke, who would go on to form Pokémon Go developer Niantic.

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Meridian 59

Incidentally, “Meridian 59” is still online as a free game. You can grab it here if you’re curious.


In 2001, Hanke founded Keyhole, a startup funded in large part by In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s venture capital arm. Earlier this year, former In-Q-Tel CEO Gilman Louie joined Niantic’s board of directors, thanks to that earlier connection. Louie maintains ties to the intelligence community, so break out your tinfoil hats.

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Niantic CEO John Hanke
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Niantic

Keyhole’s first big Google project was Google Earth, which lets users fly around a virtual globe using now-taken-for-granted street view imagery. When it was launched in 2005, there was nothing else like it.


In 2010, Hanke led the creation of Niantic, a subsidiary within Google. It’s named for the Niantic, a whaling vessel that was run aground in San Francisco and turned into a bar and hotel. The idea was that they wanted to highlight cool historical and local facts via technology.

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Wikimedia Commons/Wells Fargo Historical Museum

Niantic’s first project was Field Trip, a Google app for iPhone and Android that sends you an alert when you’re near a cool historical landmark or site. This was the first time Niantic gathered the data that went into choosing locations for Pokestops and Gyms in the new game.

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Google

You can still get Field Trip here.


The direct precursor to Pokémon Go was Ingress, a very similar game that challenged people to go out and claim “Portals.” It had a super-involved backstory, and people even published books in the game’s universe.

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Google

Ingress took the Field Trip data, but it also let players submit their own suggestions for Portals. So if you’re wondering why some Pokestops are in weird, random, or sometimes dangerous places…that might be why.

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Niantic Labs/Ingress

Ingress may not have had the mainstream success of Pokémon Go — but it still had millions of players at its peak. In fact, Pokémon Company CEO Tsunekazu Ishihara is a high-level Ingress player in Japan, which also smoothed the road for Pokémon Go.

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REUTERS/Mark Kauzlarich

But the REAL genesis for Pokémon Go was an April Fools’ Day Joke: In 2014, Google and the Pokémon Go teamed up for the Google Maps Pokémon Challenge, in which players had to comb the globe virtually to catch ’em all.

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Dan Levy

And for players who caught all 151 Pokémon in Google Maps, Google had a sweet bonus: A set of custom-made “Pokémon Master” business cards.

Google Maps PokemonMaster!

Google Maps PokemonMaster!


Niantic was spun out from Google in late 2015, not long before Pokémon Go was released. Hanke recently told Business Insider that the design goals of Pokémon Go are to get people exercising, teach them to “see the world with new eyes,” and to break the ice for people to have adventures with strangers.

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Drew Angerer/Getty Images

So now that you know a little bit more about Pokémon Go and where it came from, go out there and continue your Pokémon journey.

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SacredTempo/Youtube