Pikmin Go: are Niantic biting off more than they can chew?

Back to reality.

Niantic had a bumper 2020. Despite the global pandemic being very much still a thing, with the promise of a third wave on the horizon, Pokémon Go made an astounding $1bn last year.

Read more: Pikmin 3 Deluxe Switch review

With great success comes great profitability, as seen by Niantic’s recent announcement of a “new partnership with Nintendo to jointly develop mobile titles built on Niantic’s real-world AR technology, bringing Nintendo’s beloved characters to life in new ways”. The first of these games is based on the well-known and much-loved series, Pikmin.

But past success does not guarantee future success, and nor does partnering with a well-known, established franchise.

Case in point: 2019’s Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. It is difficult to find a more resonant and pervasive media license than Harry Potter. Everyone anywhere with an internet connection is aware of the boy who lived. Despite that, the game won only middling reviews with comparatively poor revenue generation.

Given all this, and how buggy Pokémon Go is, what are the chances of Pikmin Go, as it is being dubbed, being successful?

This is all strangely reminiscent of Telltale’s The Walking Dead. A resounding success that broke new ground in an otherwise little-played genre catapulted the company into the limelight. They bought into famous IPs, from Batman to Game of Thrones, and eventually buckled under the weight of what they had promised, closing in 2018 after filing for bankruptcy.

So far, this sounds strangely familiar. Although people swore that Telltale was too big to fail, it still fell flat when it bit off more than it could chew. Although Niantic haven’t yet done the same, it is at a precarious point. The blog announcing the partnership used the word ‘titles’ in the plural, which means we should expect more game reveals in the coming months and years. If they’re a resounding successes, I will be thrilled — I love AR games and the more excellent AR experiences we have to play, the better.

This said, Pikmin, like Pokémon, is a Nintendo franchise. Perhaps the secret ingredient is not taking well-known franchises, but rather game franchises built around collecting things. Harry Potter was never the best choice for an AR game — something that is being echoed by critics of Spokko’s upcoming Witcher: Monster Slayer.

Either way, looking back at the trail of failed AR games, from the aforementioned Harry Potter to Microsoft’s Minecraft World shutting down in June after just 18 months, I’m not convinced that Niantic are onto a winner just yet. Time will tell, of course, but here’s hoping Niantic are not in over their heads.