The pandemic left billions of people dealing with unprecedented levels of burnout and social isolation. In 2020, anxiety and depression alone increased a staggering 25% worldwide. As people found themselves sheltering in place and trying to work through lockdowns, many turned to immersive experiences such as gaming to socialize and reduce stress. Time spent gaming rose double digits in every global region, and millions of gamers reported seeing a positive impact on their mental health.
By creating experiences that foster community and social interaction, brands can quite literally support wellness through gamification. Some brands use immersive experiences to spread mental health awareness, such as Pinterest’s recent mood room installation, or Land Rover UK’s digital billboard campaign encouraging people to spend more time outside.
Others, such as industry-leading AR game developer, Niantic, support healthy habits a bit more directly. Known for titles including Ingress, 2016 smash hit Pokémon GO, Pikmin Bloom and upcoming adventure pet game Peridot, Niantic is on a mission to promote mental and physical activity.
“For John [Hanke] and the entire Niantic leadership team, the idea was that you can promote well-being and happiness if you get people outside in the world together. So we use technology to make getting out there with others a little bit more enticing,” said Erin Schaefer, Niantic’s Vice President of Revenue and Global Operations.
Pokémon GO saw a massive surge in players and player spending during 2020 and 2021, partly due to social distancing measures that made gaming with others safer. The game’s continued popularity prompted a recent wellness study, which found location-based games that emphasize mentally-healthy habits such as face-to-face socialization, exercise and exposure to nature could alleviate short-term depression.
Niantic has also committed to studying the impact of location-based gaming more closely and teamed up with the Rochester Institute of Technology in late 2020 to develop ongoing research.
This year, Niantic aims to bring even more people together, both outside and online. In March, the company began a series of Community Days, where families, friends and strangers gather at designated locations around the world to interact, join special game events and win bonus items. They’re also set to launch a new social feature, Campfire, within their games this summer, allowing players to connect with other players and find and join communities and real-world events.
Beyond in-game and game-related experiences for players, Niantic has now opened up a whole new world of possibilities to brands and developers everywhere. In late 2021, the company released its proprietary game AR experience development platform, the Lightship Augmented Reality Developer Kit (ARDK), to the public.
Brands interested in creating wellness campaigns or promoting mental health now have the tools to create unique AR experiences by partnering with Niantic or developing them in-house.
“The more we can get this technology into the hands of creatives who can think of ways to get people out in the real world exploring together, the better, whether that takes the form of a game or something else,” Schaefer said.
“We’re really excited to further general global well-being and want to make sure we unleash all these innovative developers to do the same and, hopefully, inspire them around what’s possible. What are some of the most amazing, exciting, fun, wonderful, beloved AR experiences you can build?”
The ARDK, which powers Pokémon GO, has supported dozens of exciting new AR projects in the past eight months, some of which hit a bit closer to Niantic’s mission of global well-being.
TRIPP, a digital wellness platform specializing in extended reality (XR) meditation, partnered with Niantic to build an AR experience that allows users to complete self-care tasks and plant their own virtual serenity garden.
“What’s unique about this partnership with Niantic’s ARDK is the ability to support multiplayer experiences that foster human-to-human interaction within the context of community around our tenets: connectedness and mindfulness,” said Jason Asbahr, TRIPP’s Chief Technology Officer, in a recent press release.
Niantic aims to promote healthy living and wellness by developing immersive experiences that get people exploring together and facilitating better mental health through technology. For Schaefer, Niantic’s aim is to keep players healthy and active hits especially close to home.
“It’s so nice to be supporting a company that gets people outside,” she said. “When I play these games with my kids and see them actually outside, enjoying them in the real world and not just down at a screen in their bedroom, it just really makes the promise of what we’re trying to do so palpable.”