We’ve been fans of Niantic’s work and players of their games for a long time. Augmented Reality isn’t just virtual content being displayed in the physical world, it’s also about using location, context, and social interactions to augment our everyday experience. Niantic does this for millions of players and with Lightship they’re opening the doors to their AR tech for developers around the world. These are the things that made us jump at the opportunity to work with Niantic shortly after we started NZXR.
Over time, as we worked with people from across Niantic it became clear that we see the same future. One that is inclusive and accessible, where ubiquitous AR helps us become more engaged with each other and the world. When John Hanke, Niantic’s CEO, wrote “the metaverse is a dystopian nightmare” it resonated with us far more than any of the metaverse hype pieces published before or since. A better world is not a given. It’s going to take a lot of work and Niantic has demonstrated to us that they’re willing to put in the effort. We’re delighted to have found a partner who will help us push toward a positive future.
Early in the COVID-19 pandemic our Wellington-based Magic Leap team was one of many laid off across the world. We had spent 5 years together working on in-development and leading-edge headworn augmented reality. We had grown into an effective team with rare experience in a nascent medium. We decided that we didn’t want to lose our collective expertise and team dynamics. So, in a flurry of activity, we started NZXR and quickly found our feet. The game development community in Aotearoa New Zealand supported us with thoughtful advice, connections, and signal boosting. We’ll forever be grateful for that support, it gave us confidence to commit to a new venture in the midst of global uncertainty.
It wasn’t long before NZXR had more work than we could handle. VR safety training. Dozens of AR prototypes. Design and engineering support to Reality Crisis for their awesome AR skateboarding game Skatrix. Collaboration with Hackman on Destination Mars, their Unreal Engine powered interactive theatre experience that has had a successful run at Te Papa Tongarewa, the national museum of Aotearoa New Zealand.
We also saw a need for cross-platform tools which would make it faster and easier to build high-quality multiplayer, persistent, geolocated AR experiences. In spare moments we developed StoryXR to meet that need, and our first trailer had an overwhelmingly positive response. The folks at Qualcomm asked if we’d be interested in creating a demo for their Snapdragon Spaces platform and we leapt at the chance to take StoryXR to headworn AR. The result is The Great Crane Cake Off, a very NZXR project which is equal parts high tech and silly situations.
Through it all we were working on projects with Niantic, making fascinating things and getting to know their good people. Most of that work is behind the scenes supporting Niantic’s ambitious game teams, but you may have spotted us in a video during John’s keynote at AWE 2021. We’ve found our counterparts at Niantic to be welcoming and excited to collaborate, open to feedback and quick to share knowledge. When Niantic approached us about a permanent partnership it felt like a natural fit.
At Niantic we’ll continue doing what we love, collaborating with some of the best in the business to make AR concepts tangible on in-development tech. We’re excited to work more deeply with the wonderful game teams at Niantic and contribute to Lightship to support a much wider development community than we ever imagined!
Thank you to everyone who helped us through these turbulent times. The support from our community and colleagues helped us build a thriving studio. We would especially like to acknowledge the team at CerebralFix, Tim, Karen, and Nadia (check out Nadia’s new studio Black Salt!). Thank you as well to our former colleagues from Magic Leap who were wonderful champions for us. You’ll find ex-Leapers at many tech companies and game studios, and so many of them reached out to us to start conversations when they landed in new teams. That network is going to continue to bear fruit for many organisations in the coming years.
Most importantly, thank you to our whānau and friends who stood by us as we took our first terrifying and exhilarating leap into startup land and have cheered us on every step of the way.
See you in the real world.
The NZXR crew.