Pokemon GO and Ingress maker, Niantic is looking to push its valuation up to $3.9 billion and helping in its latest $200 million funding round are venture capitalist firm IVP, Samsung, and aXiomatic Gaming, The Wall Street Journal reports. US-based IVP is expected to lead the funding round but Samsung could reportedly have deeper motives than simply seeing the current leader in AR-based mobile gaming succeed. Niantic is expected to utilize some of its funding boosts to assist in developing games in the genre for other publishers under a revenue-sharing model. While unconfirmed that could mean that Samsung plans to pursue further deals with Niantic to bring heavily optimized or unique gameplay mechanics to its own devices in the future.
Background: At least a portion of the incoming funding will undoubtedly go toward the development and maintenance for Niantic's upcoming AR title, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. That title is expected to launch in March and, according to some recent reports, will likely launch alongside Samsung's Galaxy S10 family of handsets. Those same reports centered around an agreement said to be in place between Samsung and Niantic that would allow Galaxy Note 9 users to use their S-Pen as a magic wand. Samsung is said to be paying approximately $40 million for that privilege and including the future Niantic games pre-installed on its Galaxy-branded handsets. Those discussions also allegedly involved discussions about similar features or special access for Samsung's devices in Pokemon GO but that segment of talks appears to have progressed no further.
The timing of that deal lines up neatly with the expected launch date for the Samsung Galaxy S10, at or around MWC 2018 in Barcelona in late February. It also lines up neatly with the latest funding round. For its part, Samsung is no stranger to making deals in order to gain access or partial access to content for its users. Leading to the launch of its Galaxy Note 9 flagship phablet, the company worked closely with Fortnite developer Epic Games to ensure that title would launch simultaneously and be a timed exclusive for the device. It also placed substantial resources toward billing that handset as a gaming smartphone and its upcoming devices will almost certainly try to carry that torch forward in one way or another. Gaining exclusive access to Niantic features that can only work with the next-generation Samsung Galaxy S10 family of devices or this year's Galaxy Note 9 would be a step in that direction and the funding may help convince Niantic to go that route.
Impact: Samsung's participation in the latest funding round for Niantic's business isn't necessarily unusual but does raise a few questions about why no firm date has been given to Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, yet. The developer has been working on the title for some time now with its first trailer launching in November. Core gameplay will probably to be almost identical to its other games but with added twists centering around the creatures, characters, items, and abilities found in the Harry Potter universe. Niantic will almost certainly include new gameplay mechanics as well to match the popular franchise and possibly a wand-waving S-Pen feature for the latest Samsung Note device. Details aside from those are still very slim on the ground.