That all but confirms that Niantic is raising money precisely at a time when it doesn’t need it. Niantic declined comment, but the filing comes after a Wall Street Journal report last month that said the company was closing a $200 million funding from investors, including IVP, aXiomatic Gaming and Samsung, at a value of $3.9 billion.
The round closed on December 20, according to the new documents. Niantic has now raised more than $415 million to date. The filing said there are 26 investors in the round. Other investors include The Pokemon Company, Google, Founders Fund, Spark Capital and Alsop Louie Partners, among others. There’s an old maxim among startups that the best time to raise money is when you don’t need it; you get the best terms that way, and can sock away money for a rainy day.
I’ve been playing Pokémon Go since it debuted in June 2016. The game became a huge international hit. The popularity faded a bit after that, but Niantic has been rebuilding interest by adding more features like new Pokémon creatures, events, friends, and most recently trainer battles.
That raises the question. Why would a company need a round it doesn’t appear to need? The answer: Niantic’s ambitions are bigger than they seem. John Hanke, CEO of San Francisco-based Niantic, had a larger purpose in starting Niantic, whose first game was the location-based title Ingress. It was meant to get people off the couch and out of their homes and visiting local landmarks, such as parks or statues. It helped generate a huge interest in walking outside; at level 30, I have collected 2.3 million XP and walked untold miles.
Niantic recently said it wants to replicate the technology behind the original Pokémon Go video, which featured seamless integration of an animated creature with the real world. The way to do that is with augmented reality, which is possible on modern smartphones. But Niantic joined other companies in investing in DigiLens, a holographic wave guide maker, because it wants to create AR glasses.
That venture is ambitious, and it won’t be cheap. It’s not clear whether Niantic simply wants to make software for AR glasses, or if it wants to make the AR glasses itself. The more money it raises, the more it will have the option of creating its own AR glasses.