On his walk One day, walking toward Niantic’s Bay Area office, senior producer Sakae Osumi noticed everyone staring upwards. A solar eclipse was happening, a good reason to sit back and stare at the sky, but Osumi had another thought: what if a team working on a Monster Hunter– a themed game could recreate the situation – but trade in the sunglasses and the celestial event for a phone and a giant evil creature?
Monster hunter now is not just the answer to that specific question, but a larger, more existential problem facing Niantic. In 2016, the mobile developer caught lightning in a bottle Pokémon Go combined the company’s augmented reality technology with the mega-popular franchise, allowing players to embark on their own Pokémon adventure wherever they were. It was (and still is) a global phenomenon: over 1 billion downloads and annual events around the world (and potentially millions of dollars lost because players unwisely choose to play while driving).
In the seven years since, Niantic has struggled to create new games that can match even a whiff of that success. This year, the company laid off hundreds of employees, canceled two projects and closed its Los Angeles office. In 2022, amid layoffs, Niantic canceled four other games, following the dismal performance of the 2019 miss, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. As players lose faith that Niantic can make (and keep alive) games based on their favorite franchises, Monster hunter now, which launches on September 14, may be its best chance to regain goodwill. If a nearly 20-year-old, mega-popular series from Capcom doesn’t have the power, it’s hard to imagine where the company could successfully go next.
So does Monster hunter now have what it takes? “I can’t give you a better answer than that we think it’s a fun game,” executive producer Kei Kawai tells WIRED. “We built a fun game.”
OK sure. But it is one small more complex than that. From the beginning, Kawai says, they tried to make something that wasn’t just a new skin Pokémon Go, even though it is the company’s most successful game. Thematic, Niantic and Monster Hunter creator Capcom saw the franchise as a good fit for real-world adventures and wanted to find a way to make that a reality. But to do this, Kawai and the team wanted to take real-time action. “It’s definitely a game that’s more gamey than other titles we’ve made,” he says. “That was intentional.”
Kawai thinks about creating games in a multi-layered approach. Of course, games should be fun, and they should be exciting and engaging. But they also need to challenge players just the right amount. “A game should be a reward for your time, so you feel like you’re getting more than what you put into it,” he says.
On a typical Monster Hunter In the game, taking down your prey is a grand affair that can take anywhere from 10 minutes to over an hour, depending on size and skill. Sometimes you have to try more than once to win. But for a mobile game you might play outside in the summer sun, that’s not ideal. The team felt that even three minutes felt too long. Monster hunter now reduces encounters to 75 seconds.
You also don’t have to be constantly looking at your screen to play. Good news for anyone who’s ever fallen off a pier or two while concentrating on their phone during a PoGo outing. Palicoes, the feline companions of the series, will find monsters for you and record these encounters for later via the ‘paintball’ system. This way you can play with friends at home or at the office. “You can continue to progress while your phone is in your pocket, so we don’t force players to look at the screen,” says Osumi.
The team wanted to create a social atmosphere during the hunt and capitalize on the reputation Niantic has built for adventure. It encourages players to get out and meet people; It’s easier to hunt monsters when you’re with a team, and with paintballs you can save hunts to do later with friends. “I think this is a fundamentally social franchise,” Kawai says.
It’s true: word of mouth can make or break a mobile game. Although the Mourster Hunter the audience is huge, not every huge franchise produces a wildly popular mobile game. Niantic learned this with Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. Still, the company needs to score after a few years of fumbles. As of Monday, more than 3 million players had pre-registered Nowbut that number is small compared to the global phenomenon of Pokémon Gowhich reached 500 million downloads in its first year.
Only a few games are destined to be chart-topping hits, and it’s possible that Niantic will never repeat the success it had with Pokémon Go. Still, Osumi has faith in something Monster hunter now brings to the table, if only to appeal to players’ baser instincts. “I think this is a game that feels natural for everyone, because hunting is kind of in our DNA,” he says. Point and look up.