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NBA All World Is Niantic's Next Pokemon Go-Style Augmented Reality Game

Niantic is partnering with the NBA for a game where you explore the real world, play basketball at outdoor parks, and collect NBA players to build a team.


Niantic makes a very specific type of game that combines exploring the real world with GPS-based, augmented-reality mechanics. It has original games like Ingress and the upcoming Peridot, but its greatest success has been the established property, Pokemon. It even announced a game based on Transformers last year. Following Ingress, all of Niantic's games have been based in some kind of fictional world, but its next partnership and game borrows from reality. NBA All World is a Pokemon Go-style game based on the NBA. To quote Niantic's senior producer on All World, Marcus Matthews, the game is "The NBA lifestyle meets the real-world metaverse," though Niantic has seemingly developed its own definition of what the term "metaverse" means.

All World is functionally similar to Niantic's other augmented reality games where players explore the real world in order to collect items, be the top player on their local court, and play against NBA players (whose likenesses will appear in the game). It will feature authentic NBA music, merchandise, and footwear. For one example, Matthews said a nearby convenience store will become a location you must visit in order to collect stamina for your player, and a nearby sporting goods store will be a place to pick up the latest brand-name shoes to customize your team.

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Matthews has a history of working on sports games, including the very first 2K basketball and football games on the Dreamcast. His pitch for NBA All World is to take the video game basketball experience and move it outdoors. Matthews referenced being a kid and walking to the park to play basketball with friends and claim bragging rights, and how he hopes that NBA All World can deliver a comparable experience.

Regarding the actual gameplay, Matthews cites his time working on the original 2K sports Dreamcast games. During the development of those games, his team was looking ahead and not trying to compare itself to the basketball games that were on the market. Matthews' team is taking the same approach to NBA All World. Four pillars support the overall goal of the game. You explore the real world, customize your character, manage a team, and compete with others. While exploring, you can collect items and boosts for your player, compete against real-world players at designated basketball courts, and meet NBA players on the map to play basketball. Customizing is self-explanatory as you can design your characters with different looks and clothing, but you also manage a team of players and level them up individually.

NBA All World
NBA All World

In an example shown during the presentation, we saw the player character using a personalized avatar meeting an NBA player and competing in a three-point shootout. The camera was centered behind a 3D model of a player on a 3D court, and a climbing meter appeared on screen. To shoot successfully, you must tap the screen at the right time. If you win, you are able to recruit that player. It's unclear how close this mechanic will be to Pokemon Go and if you will be able to collect multiples of the same player for your team. For the NBA players featured in the game, Matthews says they will play similar to their real-world counterparts. "Pros like Chris Paul will play like Chris Paul. James Harden will have his step-backs," Matthews says.

The core mode, however, as Matthews refers to it, is playing one-on-one games against real-world players. In the gameplay shown, one player was seen dribbling the ball before leaping to take a shot and the meter appeared on-screen. How much control you have over the player while dribbling and moving is not yet clear, but it is all tap and swipe controls--the game will not use a virtual D-pad. "We want this to be a quick, accessible gameplay system," Matthews says.

Matthews did confirm you need to be physically near other players on a court in order to play. You won't be able to play against friends in other cities online. Niantic is working on a mode to be able to play against any player within a certain distance, but at launch you will need to travel to a physical basketball court in the game's map database in order to play against others. Matthews says Niantic is planning on making parks and other notable locations valid play spots for areas that are not dense with courts. Optimistically, Matthews says the game may have more spots of interest than Pokemon Go in the future as many retail locations and stores will be integrated into the map database.

VP of global partnerships at the NBA, Adrienne O'Keefe, was also on hand for the presentation and teased opportunities for the game to overlap with NBA events. "In addition to this being a new genre for sports games, there are a number of ways we can take the location-based nature of this game and bring it to various facets of the NBA season," O'Keefe said. "Have integration with NBA tentpole events, do location-based activity around games, whether it's regular season or global games that take place in Tokyo, Paris, and elsewhere around the world."

One confusing element of Niantic's presentation was the use of the word "metaverse". Matthews used the term to describe the game, as did O'Keefe. This is Matthews' response when asked what they meant by the term "metaverse" and how it related to NBA All World. "At Niantic what we look at with the metaverse is really what we call the real-world metaverse. Instead of creating the virtual world for you to explore, we want to overlay our video game environment on top of a map of the real world and we want to take objects and items in the real world and locations in the real world and turn those into video game objects that you can interact and play with or against," Matthews said, "So, I think virtual world games is what meta and other entities are doing, but what we're doing is turn the real world into a metaverse."

O'Keefe said conversations for NBA All World began about five years ago in the wake of Pokemon Go, and were kicked off by Niantic founder John Hanke's love of the sport. "He is the creative spirit for the game," Matthews said. NBA All World is planned for release during the 2022-2023 NBA season. You can pre-register for the game at

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