It looks like “Pokémon Go,” the iPhone and Android game that’s become a veritable phenomenon, may be getting support for Google’s cheap Cardboard virtual reality gear sooner than anybody thought.
The best hint comes from the game itself. At the bottom of the game’s settings menu is a button labelled “Licenses,” which brings you to a list of all the software they used to build the game.
Right at the top, in plain view, is “Google Cardboard.” Check it out:
John Hanke, CEO of “Pokémon Go” developer Niantic, recently hinted that the game could be coming to augmented reality wearable devices like the rumoured new Google Glass or the forthcoming Microsoft HoloLens. The game already uses your phone’s camera to make it look like the Pokémon are in the real world; the next step is beaming it straight into your eyeballs.
But Google Cardboard, Google’s ultra-low-cost virtual reality option — where the headset sells for $20 and it’s literally made of cardboard — might make more sense as a first step into those waters.
Like the game itself, Google Cardboard works with both iPhone and Android devices. And it’s definitely the most affordable VR option for most, though vendors like Hasbro make their own higher-end versions from plastic. Plus, Niantic started as a Google/Alphabet subsidiary before getting spun off, so there’s a connection there.
Still, this raises lots of questions: The whole point of “Pokémon Go,” as Hanke tells it, is that it encourages you to explore the real world, using your phone as your guide.
When you wear Google Cardboard, though, you can’t see anything else around you. And on the most current version of the Google Cardboard headset, there’s nowhere for a camera to peek through and give you an in-game look at what’s in front of you. And either way, there’s currently no great, universal way to play games on Google Cardboard, with only a single button on the unit itself for interaction.
So it’s possible that Niantic is following in Hasbro’s footsteps and building its own version of Google Cardboard with a slot for the camera and some kind of controller, as a complement to the Pokémon Go Plus wearable accessory for the game that we already know about. Perhaps Hanke was hinting that Niantic and Nintendo are building their own thing.
“Pokémon Go” players are getting into enough trouble wandering around with their phones out, so it will be interesting to see how Niantic looks at moving it into the world of virtual reality. Or maybe, like the game itself, they will end up introducing people to something new.
Niantic did not immediately respond to a request for comment.