Immersive theatre company Punchdrunk, best known for its Macbeth production Sleep No More, and augmented-reality game developer Niantic, creator of augmented-reality smartphone games Pokémon Go and Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, are teaming up to create “interactive experiences”, the companies announced today.
They are not working on extensions to existing games and productions – so don’t expect an interactive stage production of Pokémon Go, or a new video game adaptation of The Drowned Man. Instead the companies will be working on new projects, with aims to “reinvent storytelling for a 21st-century audience and further expand the horizon of interactive entertainment”.
“Those that have seen Sleep No More often liken the experience to how it might feel to walk into a video game,” says Punchdrunk’s founder and artistic director Felix Barrett, who has previously opined that “playable shows” are the future of theatre.
“Pokemon Go is really unique in that it’s the first mainstream game that takes place outside your home and in your neighbourhood. It puts a magical veneer across the streets we live in, and that’s amazing. It’s what we are striving for.”
Pokémon Go fans en masse in Chicago. Photograph: Lucy Hewett/The Guardian
Neither company has yet explained what the first product of this partnership will actually be – whether an in-home game experience, a theatre production enhanced by Niantic’s gaming and augmented-reality technology, or a one-off outdoor event along the lines of Niantic’s Pokémon Go Fests. Niantic’s CEO John Hanke describes the new projects as “entirely new experiences that merge the physical and digital worlds in a way that hasn’t before been attempted”.
Punchdrunk launched Sleep No More in Shanghai in 2017, but has been relatively quiet on new projects since its 2013-14 production of The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable in London. The company has also collaborated with HBO and Sky on The Third Day, an immersive TV show that will air this autumn.
Niantic, whose games specialise in overlaying video game worlds over the real world and getting players out to explore their neighbourhoods, launched the phenomenally popular Pokémon Go in 2016, and a Harry Potter cinematic tie-in called Wizards Unite last year.