Punchdrunk partners with Pokémon Go creators Niantic to create AR adventures

The immersive theatre purveyor and the industry leader in real-world gaming aims to pioneer a new type of storytelling through live, interactive, “tech-empowered” experiences.

30 June 2020


Immersive theatre company Punchdrunk has announced a major partnership with Niantic, the San Francisco software development company behind AR games Pokémon Go, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite and Ingress, to create a new medium of storytelling. Known for its epic immersive shows such as The Drowned Man and Sleep No More, Punchdrunk has led the way in interactive, non-linear theatre where no attendee has the same experience. Niantic has simultaneously become the industry leader in real-world gaming, at one point responsible for seemingly unexplained crowds in public places collecting to nab a Snorlax. The partnership will see the two combine to make “the next generation of live experiences… enabling players to be at the heart of their own real-world adventures”.

The project will combine real-world AR and live theatrical performance “on a scale not seen before”, says Punchdrunk in a statement, that “will lead to new advances in tech-empowered audience experience that will redefine gaming”.

“Those that have seen Sleep No More often liken the experience to how it might feel to walk into a video game,” explains Felix Barrett, artistic director of Punchdrunk. “What happens if you take that sense of adventure into the real world? Tear down the walls and the world becomes your stage. I believe that Punchdrunk and Niantic can create something that has never been done before. They do it in AR, we do it in real life. Collide the two and I think we will blow people’s minds; bend the rules of genre and redefine the norms of mobile gaming.”

Founder of Niantic John Hanke says Punchdrunk’s “unique vision for real-world storytelling and a shared interest in pushing the bounds of world-building and immersion” are what brought the two together initially. “Our teams have been collaborating for many months to create entirely new experiences that merge the physical and digital worlds in a way that hasn’t before been attempted. We think the potential is global and massive.”

Niantic currently has ten new games in development, including prototypes of AR wearables designed for outdoor exploration, movement and social interaction (presumably to avoid people walking into each other while staring at their phones). The success of its AR games has also expanded to live events, such as the Pokémon Go Safari Zone.

Meanwhile Punchdrunk is still currently staging Sleep No More in New York and Shanghai; and in autumn 2020 will release The Third Day, a production for TV and a live event, in collaboration with Sky Studios, HBO, Plan B and writer Dennis Kelly, and starring Jude Law and Naomie Harris.



Sleep No More, Shanghai. Photo by Paul Zivkovich, Yuan Studio


The Drowned Man. Photo by Julian Abrams

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Punchdrunk: It Felt Like A Kiss. Photo by Stephen Dobbie

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Jenny Brewer

Jenny oversees our editorial output across work, news and features. She was previously It’s Nice That's news editor. Get in touch with any big creative stories, tips, pitches, news and opinions, or questions about all things editorial.

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