We are pleased to highlight Kellee Santiago, Niantic’s Head of Developer Relations. Read on as Kellee provides details into what it is like fostering developer communities, her own experience of working at Niantic, as well as some insight into Niantic’s AR technology.
Questions and Answers
Q: Tell us a bit more about your role at Niantic as Head of Developer Relations?
I’m kind of an Ambassador, working between Niantic Business Development, Platform, and the developer community. I love Developer Relations because I get to represent the needs of developers to Niantic, and I get to work with our engineering, product, business, legal, and marketing teams to build the services that will make Niantic the best partner in building the future of augmented reality (AR).
Q: How has your background shaped how you came to focus on building developer communities?
I started in video game development by co-founding my own studio, thatgamecompany. We developed three titles for PlayStation 3 - flOw, Flower, and Journey. The goal of these games was to show that you could make new types of games that resonated with people who didn’t even identify as gamers, partly because they associate video games with intense violence, competition, and adrenaline rushes.
At the same time, I became really passionate about this growing community of independent game developers. I co-founded an angel investment fund called Indie Fund, became a co-organizer of the Independent Games Summit at GDC, was Chair of the awards committee for IndieCade, and basically became obsessed with helping a lot more developers make incredible, surprising games for me to play. This new-found obsession led me to join Julie Uhrman at OUYA, the Kickstart-ed Android console, as Head of Publishing and Content Acquisition. I went from working on one game at a time, to working on hundreds! And we built such an incredible community of developers that still holds a special place in my heart.
After OUYA was acquired by Razer, I joined Google Play Games as a Partner Development Manager. Google Cardboard was evolving into Daydream at the time, and I found myself pulled by the intriguing challenges of building new kinds of experiences for these new mediums in VR and AR. I was so excited to join Niantic as it feels like the perfect combination of all of these interests and background.
Q: What inspired you to join Niantic?
I am passionate about shaping new technology mediums to make the world a better place, and Niantic lives by that same ethos. To use technology to enable people to explore their neighborhoods, meet new friends, and move their bodies is a mission I love to work for every day. I’ve been a fan of Niantic since Field Trip way back in their early Google days, so in some ways, I feel like getting to work here is fulfilling an arc that started for me a long time ago.
Q: With Niantic’s Beyond Reality Developer Contest underway, can you explain what exactly the contest entails, how it speaks to developer evangelism, and why it is important?
The Beyond Reality Developer Contest allowed this select group of developers early access to our Real World Platform, and through this process, we’ve been able to better understand their needs, as well as get their feedback every step of the way. It’s really the best manifestation of the Developer Relations role - I get to hear about how they work, their process, and what they want to see, and then I get to work with the many teams within Niantic to make those things happen. Funding developers in this way is also critical to enabling future thought-leaders in AR. We hope to foster a community of developers who see our platform as a way to make their players, businesses, and communities more engaged with the real world around them.
Q: Can you summarize the Niantic Real World Platform and its tools and services?
We have the Niantic Real World Platform, which has been hardened, thanks to our Ingress, Pokémon GO, and Harry Potter: Wizards Unite players. We know it can power experiences even with huge numbers of concurrent players, and we have a unique combination of a client-side and server-side platform that has been thoroughly tested in live products.
Our client-side tools and services are designed to bridge across multiple platforms. So, our creators can develop on one platform stack and can expect AR features to work on both ARCore (Google/Android) and ARKit (Apple/iOS) devices. Also, one area that we've really spent a lot of time optimizing our work is on AR multiplayer; we have a networking stack that is designed to address the specific needs of AR multiplayer sessions-e.g. super low latency, enabled by P2P network topologies.
Q: What are some of the common challenges Real-World/AR developers experience?
One of the biggest challenges, especially if you are coming from purely digital app creation, is understanding that your player is a person moving around in the real world. It sounds obvious, but something you don’t think about is how many of our design processes as app developers revolve around understanding the user as someone operating in a purely virtual space. For instance, in digital games, you don't have to necessarily think about what time of day it is, when a place is closed or open, or how far someone can reasonably travel.
Q: What motivates you the most about the future of Niantic for AR technology and developers?
If you've ever seen players at a Pokemon Go Fest or the recent Harry Potter: Wizards Unite Fan Festival, you get a glimpse of how AR technology can truly augment and change the way we experience our world. I’m really excited to see what other imaginations there are in the developer community for how we can utilize technology that is aware of the world around us, in order to connect us more closely with it.
Q: What advice would you give Niantic developers?
While Niantic’s products have engaged players all over the world, we also know that we have barely begun to scratch the surface of what can be enabled with these technologies. We are looking to you, developers, to tell us how you want to re-imagine the world and inspire people to explore the world, move their bodies, and connect with their communities.
—Kellee Santiago, Head of Developer Relations
Interested in learning more about Niantic’s efforts in AR? Keep up to date on all things Niantic Real World Platform by following us at ar.dev.