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Inside Pokémon Go: Programming Secrets for Game Developers/



Michael is a software engineer and startup growth expert with 10+ years of software engineering and machine learning experience.

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Inside Pokémon Go: Programming Secrets for Game Developers
Inside Pokémon Go Programming Secrets for Game Developers

Pokémon Go is an augmented reality mobile game developed by Niantic, Inc. in collaboration with The Pokémon Company. Since its launch in 2016, it has become one of the most popular mobile games, with over a billion downloads worldwide. The game was praised for its innovative gameplay and its use of augmented reality technology. In this article, we will explore the programming details of Pokémon Go and discuss the key elements that game developers can learn from its success.

Gameplay Mechanics

Pokémon Go is a location-based game that uses real-world locations and landmarks as part of its gameplay. The game uses the GPS location of the player’s smartphone to track their movements in the real world, and generates corresponding in-game events and items based on their location. Players can catch Pokémon in the wild, battle at gyms, and collect items from PokéStops.

The game was built on the Unity game engine, a popular game development platform. Unity provides game developers with tools to create 2D and 3D games, and includes support for a wide range of platforms including iOS and Android. Unity was chosen for Pokémon Go because of its support for augmented reality and its ease of use for mobile game development.

Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality

One of the key features of Pokémon Go is its use of augmented reality technology. The game uses the smartphone camera to display Pokémon on the player’s screen as if they were in the real world. This is achieved through a combination of computer vision and GPS data. The game also uses gyroscope data to calculate the orientation of the smartphone, allowing the game to accurately display the position and size of the Pokémon.

To implement augmented reality, Niantic used the ARKit and ARCore frameworks, which provide developers with tools to build augmented reality apps for iOS and Android devices respectively. These frameworks allow developers to create immersive experiences that blend digital and real-world environments seamlessly.

Server Architecture

The server architecture of Pokémon Go is an important part of its success. The game uses a client-server architecture, where the client (the mobile app) communicates with the server to perform game actions such as catching Pokémon and battling at gyms. The server also tracks the location of the player and generates in-game events and items based on their location.

The server architecture of Pokémon Go is designed to handle a massive amount of concurrent players. The game was launched in multiple countries simultaneously, and the server infrastructure was designed to scale to meet the demand. The server architecture of Pokémon Go uses a distributed system that allows for load balancing and failover, ensuring that the game remains available even during peak usage.

APIs and Integrations

Pokémon Go integrates with several APIs and third-party services to enhance its functionality. For example, the game uses Google Maps APIs to display the map and location data. It also integrates with social media platforms like Facebook and Google to allow players to connect with their friends and share their progress.

Game developers can learn from the integrations used in Pokémon Go and use them to enhance the functionality of their own games. Integrating with third-party services can save time and resources for game development and improve the overall user experience.

Backend Technologies Used in Pokemon Go

The Pokemon Go server was written in Java and runs on Google Cloud Platform. The server-side logic of the game was built using the open source Google Cloud Datastore, which is a NoSQL database. The game’s backend logic and functionality were built on a custom version of the Google App Engine (GAE) platform, which provides access to many different Google Cloud services.

Data Storage and Access

The data storage for the game was handled using Google’s Cloud Datastore, which is a NoSQL database that provides automatic scaling, high availability, and advanced querying capabilities. This database allows for the efficient storage and retrieval of all the game’s data, including user information, game state, and location data.

API and Communication

API and Communication

The communication between the Pokemon Go app and the server was handled using a RESTful API. This API allows for the transfer of data between the server and client through HTTP requests and responses. The API was designed to be fast and efficient, allowing for real-time communication between the app and the server.

The API also uses OAuth 2.0 for authentication and authorization. This ensures that only authorized users can access the server’s resources and data.


Security is a crucial aspect of any online game, especially one that requires the collection of personal information such as location data. To ensure the security of the game, Pokemon Go uses various security measures, including encryption, tokenization, and OAuth 2.0 authentication.

Tokenization is used to secure sensitive user data, such as credit card information, by replacing it with a token that has no meaningful value. This token can be used to perform operations on behalf of the user, but cannot be used to obtain any sensitive data.

Encryption is used to protect user data in transit, such as location data and user authentication information. All communication between the app and the server is encrypted using SSL/TLS.


Scalability is an important aspect of any online game. As the number of users increases, the server must be able to handle the increased load without experiencing any downtime or degradation in performance.

Pokemon Go’s server was built using the Google App Engine, which provides automatic scaling of resources based on demand. This ensures that the server can handle a large number of users without any performance issues or downtime.


Pokemon Go is an excellent example of how technology can be used to create an immersive and engaging gaming experience. The game’s success is a testament to the creativity and innovation of its developers, as well as the power and flexibility of modern backend technologies.

Aspiring game developers can learn a lot from Pokemon Go’s backend architecture and design. By leveraging modern cloud technologies, game developers can build scalable, secure, and efficient game servers that provide an excellent user experience.