18 June 2019
The studio behind hybrid tabletop games Beasts of Balance and When In Rome has been acquired by the developer of mobile app phenomenon Pokémon Go, Niantic.
Sensible Object made its name with Beasts of Balance, its colourful Jenga-ish animal-stacking game that used a companion app on a tablet to allow its menagerie of creatures to evolve and adjust to different environments.
The heart of the game was physical, as the abstract blocks representing animals and elements were piled on a tech-packed plinth, the players working together to build the tower as high as possible – while keeping the animals healthy on the digital side – before it all came crashing down.
Beasts of Balance saw several expansions in the years after its release, before Sensible Object followed it up with its next clever combination of digital and physical, When In Rome.
Touted as the first ‘Voice Original’ for Amazon’s Alexa smart speaker assistant, When In Rome was a travel trivia game where players moved pieces around a conventional board before the AI quizmaster posed a variety of location-specific questions read by actual inhabitants of those places. (Alexa would also politely keep score.)
There were also physical cards activated by speaking certain commands, but When In Rome wasn’t quite as physically involved as Beasts of Balance – we found it to be an interesting but passing curio when we reviewed it last summer.
Sensible Object’s purchase by Niantic for an undisclosed sum will see it become ‘Niantic London’ and focus on augmented reality experiences played in the ‘real world’, similar to AR monster-catching app Pokémon Go – which has been downloaded over one billion times – and the upcoming Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, an AR app based on the wizarding world.
In a post announcing the acquisition, Sensible Object founder Alex Fleetwood promised that support for Beasts of Balance and When In Rome would continue, but confirmed that the team would be moving onto new projects.
“We’re proud of what we achieved together: pioneering new kinds of play for augmented reality, connected hardware, and voice AI,” Fleetwood wrote.
“[Niantic] CEO John Hanke and his team have an incredible, progressive vision for the future of play that resonates deeply with us; building global communities, pioneering new forms of augmented reality, and helping people get outside, get exercise and connect with one another in the real world.”