Looking for an Augmented Reality Casual Game

Looking at the list of best selling applications for the iPhone, I started thinking (usually a dangerous habit). On the one hand, augmented reality wants to be mobile, and the best avenue for mobile AR we currently have are smart phones. On the other hand, we often imagine augmented reality (and surely AR games) as immersive experiences – if you haven’t seen it yet, checkout Roku’s reward.

The thing is, I believe that currently “mobile” and “immersion” are conflicting goals. Our mobile platforms are way too limited to enable immersion:

  • Battery capacity is very restricted
  • Screen size is quite small
  • Processing power and sensor accuracy are low (but I expect these issues to be alleviated soon)

Even more importantly, most mobile game players are not “gamers”. They don’t have a day to spend in a quest around the city. Users require simple but challenging games which can be played during brakes, while waiting in line or while riding the bus. This also limits us to games that don’t require us to carry much additional resources to be played, such as a boards.

As augmented reality enthusiasts we can ignore those problems, and just wait for them to go away once head-up-displays, powered by fuel cells, become wildly available. But this is a counter-productive approach, and still targets gamers. There is another approach – casual games. They fit the character of most smart phone owners and play nicely on the current available hardware. Most importantly, casual games are amongst the most purchased applications on the various app stores (here’s WSJ covering the phenomenon called Angry Birds).

We need to explore casual augmented reality games. Smart phones are on the brink of making such games plausible (if they aren’t already) but we still have to tackle the hardest problem – designing a compelling gameplay. Obviously, games that only use the camera’s input as a backdrop to a game, such as Firefigther 360, won’t cut it.

I asked on twitter what could such a game be, and skry suggested: “On your daily walk/run, some of the course offers a round of DDR, hopscotch, or calisthenics”. Frogger across real roads is another interesting proposition. What do you think? Will there be an AR equivalent of Tetris, Sokoban and Angry Birds?

To get your creative juices flowing I’ve attached two casual AR games that I really like, though both are not based on smart phones. The first is Carcade, a game you can play while riding a train by students at Berlin University of the Arts. The other is Candy Wars by students of the Augmented Environments lab at Georgia Tech (though it’s cheating a little bit, since it requires additional objects).

One Response

  1. I wrote Jewel Collector for Layar, first demoed at the Mobile World Congress: http://site.layar.com/company/blog/first-layar-game-demod-at-mwc/. And have been working on augmented reality games ever since.

    I think you’re right that immersion is not the goal. There has been a definite trend toward bringing games back into your social and real worlds. AR is exciting because of locality not immersion.

    The first AR games are more likely to be social rather then casual. Farmville not Angry Birds. The hook should be tying together your location, and social network with game mechanics. I don’t think they will be difficult or challenging at all.

    The tech is still very limited, but it’s nice to be forced to think hard about these limitations rather then recreate tertris and miss the point of AR. I’m in danger of writing a blog post here, so I’ll shut up!

    Thanks for the post, interesting thoughts.

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