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NextNav has integrated its vertical location service into an upcoming mobile game called Atlas: Earth from developer Atlas Reality. With it, game developers will be able to pinpoint players in three dimensions, like what floor they’re on in a skyscraper.
The Sunnyvale, California-based NextNav considers its Pinnacle vertical location service to be the next generation of the Global Positioning System (GPS), which gives us a two-dimensional location on every smartphone. Using built-in smartphone barometers and other technology for 3D geolocation, NextNav has figured out how to capture our locations in 3D.
It’s accurate enough to give the developer a location as precise as what floor a person is standing on in a multistory building, said Dan Hight, vice president of business development at NextNav, in an interview with GamesBeat. And that’s how Atlas Reality will be able to figure out where its players are more precisely with its Atlas: Earth game.
“This will be the first time that vertical location is actually used as part of the gameplay,” Hight said. “We’ve been talking about bringing access to a wider array of different developers. We’re really excited about that and how it will unlock new capabilities.”
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Atlas: Earth will leverage the 3D data for real-estate gameplay. If you think of Monopoly, it’s similar but only that the virtual buildings are overlaid on the real world. So players can buy the top floor of a luxury condo or something like that. In games like Atlas: Earth, players will be able to spend real money to buy virtual property, and NextNav will verify the location of that virtual property.
Atlas: Earth will deliver a gaming experience built around the real environments of users, especially in densely populated areas and multistory buildings, marking the first time the vertical dimension will power gaming functionality.
Atlas: Earth launches October 18, and it is now available for “preregistration.” It will allow users to purchase virtual parcels of real estate that, when owned, operate as digital properties tethered to real locations. Within the game, Pinnacle will deliver precise vertical location intelligence, enabling users to record visits to locations such as the top floor of the Empire State Building or the Skygarden in the San Francisco Federal Building. Players could even rent space in somebody’s virtual building.
It introduces a model in which users can earn real income by selling virtual items that can only be purchased when a user is physically on-premise — which is verified by NextNav’s Pinnacle — at locations owned within the game’s universe.
Atlas Reality previously launched Atlas: Empires, a 2D location game that was like others of its ilk such as Niantic’s Pokémon Go. Atlas: Empires got more than 500,000 downloads, said CEO Sami Khan in an interview with GamesBeat. Atlas Reality was able to easily integrate tech in part because NextNav last year released its Pinnacle software development kit (SDK) for the Unity engine.
Marketing the real world
Khan is a seasoned marketer who worked at the fintech startup Acorns, which lets people save money in their savings accounts with every purchase. He enjoyed gamifying fintech, and he saw a similar opportunity with finance-oriented games, such as the virtual real estate game genre, which has been around as long as companies have been creating virtual versions of Monopoly. But in this case, Khan’s Atlas: Earth game is tied to real-world locations, and that is what Atlas Reality is going after.
“We’re thinking about games in a different way, bringing technology to gaming to create some mechanics the game industry has ignored,” Khan said in an interview with GamesBeat. “Four years ago [under the Cerberus Interactive name], we started building a real-world metaverse that we knew was going to be a bed for a lot of our first-party games. We were inspired by Sim City” and other simulation games.
In contrast to Niantic, Atlas Reality decided to make games that are different because they are not exclusively played outside. They can have a foraging or scavenging aspect, and they’re tied into types of strategy games.
“We’ve built this platform internally in-house that allows us to build these map-based games extremely quickly, so we can design new game maps in a matter of a week instead of weeks or months,” Khan said.
“Atlas: Empires proved we can build a location-based game with the design pillars we had in mind,” Khan said. “With Atlas: Earth, we have segmented the entire planet into 30 feet-by-30 feet squares that you can buy as parcels.”
And if a player buys the most parcels in the city of Austin, Texas, then that person becomes the mayor of the virtual city.
“We have a world full of virtual objects you can buy, and we’ll have landmarks that you can purchase as well,” Khan said.
And Khan hopes the economy won’t consist of just static objects. For instance, you could dress up your virtual property and make it look better using lumber from a virtual lumber mill. Players should be able to sell their property to others for a profit and then reinvest that in other property in the game.
Integrated with Unity
Since Unity powers most mobile games, that SDK enabled millions of developers to integrate vertical location capabilities into any application built with the Unity engine, including geolocation games, training applications, industrial and manufacturing apps, and beyond.
“Unity made it fairly seamless with a lot of technical work that they did on their side,” Hight said. “They saw this as a unique opportunity.”
More recently, the plug-in became a Unity Verified Solution, which ensures it’s optimized for integration with the latest version of the Unity editor, and provides a seamless experience for Unity developers. Developers who utilize the NextNav Pinnacle SDK can integrate it into any application built with the Unity engine.
“Just like with any new technology, you have your innovators and early adopters, and I think we’re focused right now on kind of this innovator class that sees this,” Hight said. ” We hope that other developers will start pulling this technology into their games, and success will breed success.”
A new SPAC
In June, NextNav agreed to go public via a merger agreement with Spartacus Acquisition Corporation, which is a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC). In that $1.2 billion deal, NextNav will take a shortcut to going public through a merger transaction with publicly traded Spartacus Acquisition, which was created by investors to take a company public. The transaction is expected to close late in the third quarter of 2021 or early in the fourth quarter of 2021, subject to satisfaction of customary closing conditions.
Part of the reason that NextNav believes it has a strong enough business to go public is that many 911 emergency services will require vertical positioning data so that first responders can figure out what floor to go to when someone makes an emergency call from a big building.
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