The game developer with a $5 billion regret

By Matthew Dunn of news.com.au

This could have been Ivan Lee's Geomon. Photo / AFP
This could have been Ivan Lee's Geomon. Photo / AFP

Imagine coming up with the concept that never gained momentum, only to find out another company is worth $5 billion just weeks after releasing the same product.

This is exactly what happened to entrepreneur Ivan Lee - the founder of Loki Studious and a mobile game called Geomon.

After dropping out of Stanford just a few credits short of a Masters in Computer Science, Mr Lee shifted his focus to create a mobile game combining his love of Pokemon with the ever-evolving world of smartphone geolocation.

In a 2011 interview, Mr Lee explained the concept of his mobile game.

"Geomon is an alternate, parallel world populated by so-called Espers. There are 100 of these creatures and players can collect and document different ones based on where they are on earth when playing the game," he toldInc.

"For example, people playing next to the ocean can collect sea-dwelling creatures while those living in a snowy climate can get ice-creatures. Collectors compete, as trainers do in Pokemon. And as a player's location changes so do the threats and opportunities."

Sounds eerily familiar to Pokemon Go, right?

Despite a research note estimating Pokemon Go developer Niantic will make $1.05 billion this year, Mr Lee has made peace with the fact he missed the cash train.
Also, it wasn't as if Mr Lee hadn't seen success with his game.

Before the company "ceased operations" of Geomon after it was acquired by Yahoo in 2013, it had achieved profitability and boasted a million users.

Mr Lee had also known of Niantic since they started making Ingress - the multi-player, geolocation-based game the developer launched in 2013.

"They were a high-calibre team working on geolocated games, and I was curious what they would launch," he said.

Mr Lee said Niantic's licensing the Pokemon name was a vital part of the company's success.

"The hype has only been building since the game's announcement," he said.

He also believes forcing players to be active in the real world was a gamble that seems to have paid off for the developer.

"We had concerns users would baulk at the concept, and chose instead to find ways to allow users to play while out and about or play from the comfort of their couch," he said.

Mr Lee said he has nothing but praise for Niantic chief executive John Hanke, knowing how long he had been working toward this goal.

"The communal work they inspired in Ingress went a long way towards making the balance of this world successful - making this world immediately interesting on launch day," he said.

"They have excellent, loveable graphics - each Pokemon dances around and jumps at you. "Additionally, while I don't believe the virtual reality is a critical or particularly difficult feature, I think it's an excellent touch in driving home that these Pokemon exist around us."

While Mr Lee thinks the game will make revenue potential from in-app purchases and partnerships, he is uncertain how long the hype will last.

"My current projection is that the game will start falling off in a few months. As users level up, become satisfied with the Pokemon they have collected, and start seeing fewer and fewer new Pokemon, they will move on to the next hit game," he said.

"How many people are still playing Words with Friends or Fruit Ninja today?"

Mr Lee does admit he wishes things were different, but as a Pokemon fan he is enjoying the ride.

"I'm rooting for Niantic to figure this out, because it was my childhood and entrepreneurial dream to play Pokemon in the real world," he said.

"Niantic was founded in 2010. They have worked on this twice as long as we did, and have earned every bit of the success they've achieved.

"Now let's please add collaborative battling."

- news.com.au

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