Google's secretive skunkworks lab wants to make a new multiplayer smartphone game

Dan KaufmanScreenshot / YouTubeDan Kaufman, leader of ATAP

Google’s secretive skunkworks lab is trying to create the multiplayer game of the future.

The Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) division is hiring a bunch of gaming experts to work on a new social smartphone game, according to recent job postings.

The process appears to be in the early stages as ATAP is looking for a creative director as well as lead backend and mobile games engineers to “propose, design, and implement services to help manage large amounts of user data for multiplayer gaming.”

Google doesn’t specify the game’s title or premise, but says in one listing that it needs a creative director, familiar with the Unity3D game development tool, who will be “responsible for all aspect’s of the game’s design,” including generating “concepts, storyboards, sketches, design documents, and other artifacts as needed to communicate the design vision” and working with the product manager to design all game mechanics.

The ATAP division prides itself on moving quickly (and killing projects liberally), so no there’s no guarantee that this game will see the light of day. But for now, ATAP is billing the endeavour to hopefuls as creating “the future of mobile entertainment” and wants developers with 8+ years of experience to build a “cross-platform, shared server development framework” to support “large social engagement through shared gameplay.”

ATAP itself saw a big change earlier this year when Facebook poached its leader, Regina Dugan. Dan Kaufman, who, like Dugan, worked at the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency before coming to Google, took over in her wake.

‘Game dev at Google?’

Gaming isn’t an area Google has generally cared about in the past, but it may be smarting from the spin-off of Niantic Labs, which created the hugely popular mobile game Pokémon Go. Niantic launched within Google back in 2010 and created a game based on Google mapping data called Ingress, but Niantic split off in late 2015 after the company’s Alphabet reorganization. Less than a year later, Niantic’s first non-Google affiliated game, Pokémon Go, went ballistic.

Interestingly, job postings for ATAP’s new game don’t mention augmented reality (Pokémon Go is considered one of the first widely popular AR games) or working with Tango, Google’s 3D mapping tool meant to give any phone AR capabilities, which originally launched in ATAP.

Outside of Ingress, Google hasn’t otherwise created any break-out standalone games, and has instead focused on making platforms like Android, Chrome, and more recently, the Daydream virtual reality OS, for other developers to create their own games on.

As one ATAP software engineer puts it on his LinkedIn page:

“Game dev at Google? Who would have thought this existed? It does, and that’s what I’m doing.”

Meanwhile, ATAP’s other known projects include Jacquard, which makes smart fabric, Soli, which uses radar for touchless gesture control, and Spotlight Stories, which creates short VR films. Ara, its modular phone concept, and the aforementioned Tango recently “graduated” from the lab.

Google declined to comment.

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