Tech And Gadgets: Niantic launches NBA All-World location-based basketball game

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Niantic, the NBA, and the NBPA official launched NBA All-Worlda free-to-play game with geolocation from the maker of Pokémon Go.

The basketball game uses augmented reality and it enables players to find each other on a map of the world, in places such as neighborhood courts, sneaker outlets, energy drink stores, a bank or NBA venues. Beyond just getting people to play a mobile game, the title is aimed at bringing people together to celebrate the culture and lifestyle of basketball.

The game had a soft launch in countries such as Canada, Singapore, Australia and the Philippines. And now it is available globally on the Apple App Store and Google Play.

Niantic collaborated with HypGames to make the title over the last four years, and the whole mission was to do something different, said Andrew Macintosh, senior product marketing manager at Niantic, in an interview with GamesBeat.

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“It’s not just another game for us. This is a game made by real NBA fans who care about the sport of basketball,” he said.

Dunking in NBA All-World.

Just as with Pokémon Go, you play it with a smartphone and use location-based mapping to find, challenge, and compete against other players or NBA stars. You can recruit as many as 80 NBA players at the outset to join your team as you field them on the court.

The idea behind NBA All-World is much like Niantic’s other games: to get people out of the house and engaging with each other in person. It brings players to neighborhood courts, where you can find arena for competition or drop zones where you can score virtual goods.

“The Niantic storytelling starts with getting outside, getting off your butt, off the couch. You go outside and explore the real world. And of course, you can do that with basketball, but we’re not trying to replace basketball. We’re trying to enhance it,” Macintosh said. “I you’re on the bus, going to a court, if you’re in between pickup games, this is something that you can do to participate in the world of basketball at all times. We’re making it a lot more accessible.”

Fans can encounter today’s NBA players, recruit them to their teams, level them up and compete to become one of the top 10 leaders of a local basketball court. Players will have the opportunity to outfit their squads with the latest gear by searching for real-world drops from a variety of well-known brands as well as some created by Niantic itself.

In the game, players can additionally show off their teams, chat with friends in the game and compete in 1v1 tournaments to win exclusive in-game items.

“Sports are a huge part of people’s lives and a huge part of pop culture,” said John Hanke, CEO of Niantic, in a statement. “Our version of an NBA basketball game starts with exciting one-on-one gameplay and expands from there to include the major elements of basketball culture, including music, fashion, sneakers and more, all of which are integrated into real world locations.”

A shooting contest in NBA All-World.

Through NBA All-World, players will learn about real world locations that are the personal favorites of today’s NBA players. Niantic will additionally support the game’s launch with a marketing campaign, “go. all. out.” as well as NBA All-World’s short-form documentary series, “Where I’m From”, starring NBA players including Jalen Green, Jordan Poole, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.

“We look forward to our fans fully immersing themselves in NBA All-World as they develop deeper connections with players, the league and each other,” said Matt Holt, head of consumer products at the NBA, in a statement. “Through our collaboration with Niantic and the NBPA, this game helps expand the world of the NBA and its culture into virtually every neighborhood around the globe.”

Exploration and gameplay

The map of NBA All-World is built on top of the real world.

As Niantic’s first officially licensed sports title, NBA All-World inspires people to explore the world to experience everything the game has to offer. It encourages you to explore your world. You can get out of the house, exercise, and move in the real world to discover NBA players to compete against and recruit to your roster, as well as Gear, Boosts, Challenges, and more.

“The map is so important for us,” he said. “But we’re using the map differently. And it looks different. It’s a lot more complex in the type of things that are spawning on the map.”

The landmarks in the game aren’t just going to be in big cities. Since many of the developers worked remotely, they made sure that there were enough things to do in the suburbs.

You can build your team and go head-to-head against today’s NBA stars in a variety of challenges to recruit new players. If you’ve already recruited a player, you challenge them again in your next encounter to practice your shot and earn more Cred. Recruit stronger players as your Team Level increases.

You can also push the limits of your NBA players, powering them up with Offense, Defense and Fitness Boosts. You can also keep your energy high with Energy Drinks.

NBA All-World is about the basketball lifestyle.

For gameplay, you can tap a player and challenge Draymond Green to a three-pointer contest. You try to time your shots right on a meter. If you do it right, you make the shot. You can also do the same in a neighborhood court where you have to make more shots in a given time than the leader in an asynchronous match. The play session may last 45 seconds. If you challenge more advanced players, like Lebron James, you’ll have a tougher time beating them. To recruit them, you need more experience.

Some items in the game are available in real world places where you would normally get them. If you need cash, you can stop by a bank. If you’re thirsty, you can grab an energy drink at a store. If you want to get gear in the game, you can stop by a real-world fashion outlet. You might get some exclusive sneaker drops at a Drop Zone in a neighborhood and use them on your digital character.

“We’re trying to make sure more people can go and play the game,” Macintosh said. “Whether you’re seven years old or 70 years old, I think that’s really important.”

Basketball games are really popular on game consoles, but it’s hard to compete with fans who play for many hours a day. That makes the console games less accessible.

Niantic has found more than 100,000 basketball courts in the real world and marked them on the map. You can compete in the game to hit the top 10 spots on the leaderboard with the Rule the Court mode. You can challenge friends and other players for the top spot.

You can also pick up rare gear from some of your favorite brands at Drop Zones. You can look out for special gear that improves player stats and outfit your team with sneakers and accessories that help you stand out from the crowd.

NBA marketing

Jalen Green is a brand ambassador for NBA All-World.
Jalen Green is a brand ambassador for NBA All-World.

Multiple NBA players will help with the marketing, including Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins of the NBA championship team Warriors. Jalen Green of the Houston Rockets will also be a brand ambassador for the game. A bunch of real-world brands are also participating like Adidas, Puma, and musicians like T-Pain. All of that is aimed at making the world NBA All-World more authentic.

“We want to help make NBA All-World be as authentic as possible, as well as reach new audiences by bringing NBA players to Niantic’s augmented reality game,” said Josh Goodstadt, chief commercial officer for Think450, the partnership and innovation arm of the National Basketball Players Association, in a statement. “We look forward to users competing against and assembling their rosters from their favorite NBA players around the world.”

And while it’s different, Macintosh said NBA All-World is an authentic game.

“Basketball is more than just the teams, the logos and the players. It’s also the music, the style, the culture surrounding it, and we’ve been leaning into that more,” Macintosh said.

When you fire up the game, you see the real world map and where you can move to engage with the game.

“You find those players in the real world, you recruit them by challenging them to mini-games, and then ultimately, you’re becoming” those NBA players, Macintosh said. “You can style your player the way you wan using real-world brands, as well as some fun brands we created ourselves.”

Lightship platform

Crypto.com arena in NBA-All World.

Built on Niantic’s Lightship platform, players of all Niantic games will feel right at home in NBA All-World if they’ve played Pokémon Go, Pikmin Bloom or Ingress.

Niantic’s Campfire social app adds a real-world social aspect to the game, making it easy to connect with other hoop fans and the wider NBA All-World community.

The AR tech lets you go to a spot in the real world and then see visualizations that show off sneakers and other gear that you can collect in the game. Those AR features may show up more around the spring.

You don’t have to physically touch anything at a map location. While Niantic could theoretically cut deals with locations such as sneaker stores or banks to drive traffic to them, it isn’t doing that right now. There is no way to buy something at a sneaker store and get credit for that purchase in the game. Perhaps something like that could be done over time, Macintosh said. Still, the foot traffic could be helpful.

“We’ve been successful in other games driving people to sponsor locations. And we’re not here to talk about anything like that today,” Macintosh said. “But I think there is definitely value that we can create in driving people to locations that are meaningful.”

Comparing this game to other titles, Macintosh said it’s not a simulation game or a twitch game where you mash the controllers. The gameplay emphasizes simplicity and arcade-like play. Niantic isn’t saying anything yet about whether it will expand to more players than one-versus-one gameplay. There aren’t many cutscene moments in the game either, and there isn’t any motion capture of pro players.

“I think a lot of people who maybe missed Pokemon Go might try out this game,” Macintosh said.

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