Augmented Toys and Games Mature at Toy Fair 2013

As in each of the last few years Augmented Reality toys and games were very visible at Toy Fair in New York last week.

These games combine physical and digital interaction which is a fantastic way to get kids away from the traditional TV or computer screens and encourage them to interact with the physical world.

Here is a collection of Augmented products I discovered:

Barbie Digital Mirror Lets Kids Try on Makeup

Allow young kids to try out make up while avoiding all the mess. Can’t go wrong with that! The game uses the iPad camera to track faces.

Mattel Disney Princess Ultimate Dream Castle

The concept of augmenting dollhouses have been around for sometime (see Helen Papagiannis). This, I believe, is the first mass market dollhouse to support augmented reality.

Popar Books

We have seen many popup book, but Popar is the first to put so much effort into it. Popar is fully immersed in the AR industry and have product lines incorporating AR that are currently in the worldwide marketplace.

Sphero Ball And Sharky the Beaver

Orbotix introduced a fun innovation with its smartphone-controlled Sphero Ball last year. Now, they have enhanced it with an augmented reality character and matching games that augmented the ball. Leveraging robotics to create this form of augmented reality games seems like a great way to bring AR to the masses in a fun way. It overcomes many challenges facing the common AR approaches.

Imaginext Apptivity Fortress

Most of the game play still revolves around an iPad screen, but it’s an interesting attempt to combine physical and virtual play.

NeuroSky and Puzzlebox – Brain waves controlling furry ears and a quadrocopter

Wii introduced physical games to millions of living rooms, and Microsoft Kinect made our bodies the controllers for games, but NeuroSky and Puzzlebox promises to not even require a body – just your mind to play. Here is a simple but awesome example how furry ears can be controlled by your brain waves alone. Next I wish to have such a tail!

Nuko Toys and Cards

Many studies have shown that physical hands-on interaction improves learning & memory. On that premise, Nuko adds cards interaction to their games. Is it truly augmenting the experience? You’ll be the judge.

Lego Mindstorms EV3

Lego amazing user-created robots have become more sophisticated and can be controlled by various sensors, and smartphones.

Cubelets

Somewhat similar to Sifteo (see next), but puts more focus on sensors and mechanics while Sifteo has slicker screens and focused on games that come to life through physical interaction.

Sifteo

Scan Games – trigger content on smartphones with QR codes and cards

Scan Game with AFV

Codigo Cube

Last but least on our list today…it’s cool that this game leverages QR Codes as an input for a smartphone trivia game, but the use in this game seems forced. Isn’t it a better experience to simply roll the dice on the phone screen itself? It might have been a great experience if the cube itself would have been augmented with graphics that truly enhance the experience.

Conclusion

Toy Fair 2013 featured a really nice collection of augmented toys and games which are spear heading the use of augmented reality for the masses. What will you build next?

Can’t Wait for the NBA Season to Kick-off? Play King of the Court Today!

For the past few years, I have been documenting my pursuit of the ultimate augmented reality experience. NBA King of the Court, recently launched by Ogmento on the iPhone app store and the Android Market, is a major landmark for me along this fascinating path.

King of the Court has the ingredients of a deeply engaging game:  a free-to-play casual mechanic that anyone feels compelled to play (shooting hoops to become king of the court), a deeper strategy level that draws you in (protect and extend your kingdom by carefully managing your resources), social rivalry that gets under your skin (schooling your friends and foes in daily competitions), all wrapped up in one of the world’s most favorite sport franchise – the NBA.

Players attest that what makes this game an inseparable part of their everyday life is the fact that the virtual courts are located in their real neighborhoods: at their office, their grocery store, their bank, and that isolated shady bar they can’t really remember how they got there. When the courts are an integral part of your daily routine, the game feels more real. Or like the McNuggets (sadly) unforgettable commercial says: “slams are even dunkier.”

When an alert pops up on your phone, announcing that your treasured and highly customized home court has been attacked (see mine in this post), it gets pretty visceral and hard to remain on the sidelines.

Ogmento quietly launched King of the Court 10 days ago and already tens of thousands of players all over the world can’t get enough of it. That’s why I’d like to share with you a sneak preview of the new update that will take the game to the next level:

• Royal Courts! – Climb the royal ranks and face off against players worldwide to become King of the World!

• Customize your player – Pick your favorite NBA team jersey as your avatar or use your Facebook photo!

• Bigger and Better Leaderboards! Ranking with fans of individual teams and royal court rankings

• Recruitment Bonuses! Get more Basketballs when inviting friends to play!

• Extra Holiday cheer!

Now, here’s an invaluable and timely tip exclusively for Games Alfresco readers: when the NBA season starts (finally!) on Christmas day with much fanfare about the game, the tide of players will rise and the stakes will get much higher. So to stay on top and ride the wave all the way to the finals, grab your local courts today, land the highest score by any means necessary (99 cents can get your pretty far), and promptly fortify them with killer defense power ups. By the time the tide comes rushing in you’ll be riding the wave, collecting royalties for your courts and asserting yourself as THE unassailable king. Rule the courts! Rule the world!

Are you taking control of your neighborhood yet?

Share with us your experience on facebook and twitter.

The First Fun Augmented Reality Game on the iPhone App Store Was Just Submitted

Since September 2009, we have seen many quasi-augmented reality (AR) games on the iphone, some fun concept AR games (on other platforms and devices with no real commercial distribution).

Today I had the pleasure to play the first truly fun, truly AR game on the iphone – and I loved it.

It’s called AR Defender, developed by the talented team and our good friends at Int13.

With close to 30 frames per second – it’s a huge achievement from a technical perspective (even though they are using their proprietary marker).

And it’s looks great. The game play is a mix between a simple table top game, and a typical to Tower of Defense game, nicely adapted for the AR experience. Few seconds into the game you forget you are aiming at a marker and get immersed into the game play – wow!

That together with the fact it’s available on the app store may lead to commercial success that we haven’t seen before with an AR game.

This is VERY encouraging, because Games Are The Killer App For Augmented Reality.

Check it out:

The game should be approved by Apple soon – so when it does – try it and let us know what you think!

A New Device for Augmented Reality Games Was Born

Finally, the iPod Touch has a camera!

Today, Steve Jobs announced at the Apple Music Event, the new incarnation of the legendary iPod product line.

One of my personal highlights was of course the new iteration of the iPod Touch. Faster (Apple A4 processors – like in the iPhone), with the new Game Center(iOS 4.1), the largest games market (1.5 billion games and apps have been downloaded to the Touch), and now – can do Augmented Reality.

Jobs bragged the iPod games outsells Nintendo DS and PSP games – combined!

There you have it – the perfect new platform for augmented reality games (as long as you have WIFI…)

3 Reasons Why Games Are The Killer App For Augmented Reality

We all are great believers in the potential of Augmented Reality (AR). Within the next 10 years, we say, it will totally change the way we interact with the world.

But what industry will be the first to bring AR to the masses?

When you co-found a company that focuses on Augmented Reality games – and especially – when it secures an investment from a venture capital firm – you have some deeper explaining to do.

Here are 3 key (business) reasons why games will be the first industry to spearhead augmented reality into the mainstream:

Reason #1 Games are the killer app for emerging technologies

Games Accelerate the Adoption of New Technologies by the Mainstream

Games have a history of pushing the envelop of new technologies and bringing new inventions to the masses: computer graphics, memory, silicon, screens, 3D animation, interactive story telling, immersion…and the list goes on and on. What made GPUs popular and drove its development? Games! First mainstream handheld electronic device? Games! When PCs were first introduced to consumers how were they marketed? As more capable than video game consoles…

Nolan Bushnell (the legendary founder of Atari) wrote back in 1996:

“WHIMSY and fun are often the precursors to powerful tools that are used later for more serious applications. A project at inception might not be useful because of lack of infrastructure or incomplete refinements. The automobile and airplane were considered toys before they were reliable and safe. The computer game has filled a similar role in being the incubator for many innovations that drive the usefulness of the computer.”

Was the first PC a video game console?

Gaming has done it many times in the past – now it could accelerate the adoption of Augmented Reality (AR) by the mainstream. And it has another advantage…

Game Design Can Overcome Technology Limitations And Deliver a Powerful Experience

In the best games, the pleasure manifests itself in the players imagination – not necessarily on the screen.
Skeptics will say AR is not ready for the mainstream yet: It’s not fast enough; it doesn’t work in bad lighting conditions; hardware has a long way to go – and you know what – they may be right. However, in games – clever game design can help overcome technical limitations and provide a fun experience. This luxury is not available for many types of real world apps, definitely not military or healthcare apps – which deal with life or death situations.

In games, you can focus the player on the highlights of the technology, and dodge the stumbling blocks. Or you can take advantage of a technical drawback and present it as a challenge of the gameplay  – which makes the game even more captivating. In the words of Raph Koster, a veteran game designer: “Creativity, is largely about finding solutions within a known problem space.”

For example: recognizing an object takes too long? build it into the suspense of the game. Tracking gets out of whack when the camera moves too fast? encourage players to keep it steady as a special skill required for succeeding in the game. Tell a good story; use non AR elements to create a more rounded experience; use AR as a highlight that takes the game to a never-before-seen level.

Game design is a strong reason why games will be first to drive AR into the hands of consumers.

But is there a market for these AR gaming experiences?

Reason #2 Games is a big business going through transformation

500 Million Digital Natives Will Spend 10,000 Hours Playing Games Before the Age of 21

A recent statistic (heard at TED by Jane McGonigal quoting a research by Carnegie Mellon University): “500 Million gamers Will Spend 10,000 Hours Playing Games Before the Age of 21” (and in a decade another billion gamers will be added.) That’s a lot of people, spending a lot of time with your product. Plus they are early adopters which makes them a likely audience to want to try your product.

AR devices are already in our pockets

What’s the barrier for entry? Can digital natives afford the hardware required to experience AR games?

With the invasion of the iphone, Android phones, and other smart phones into our pockets, all of a sudden, we carry with us at all times, the ingredients required for an augmented reality experience (nice screen, video camera, adequate processing power, communication, GPS, and other sensors). Many digital natives already have an AR capable device…in their pockets.

(31% of U.S. teens want iPhones And 14% already own one and Android phones are catching up.)

By the way, how many americans currently play on mobile devices? 42%!

OK, so many people are spending a lot of time playing games and have the hardware to play AR games, but what’s the revenue potential of the game industry?

Gaming is a $67 Billion Growth Industry Going Through Transformation

Gaming is huge. Bigger than music, bigger than movie box office. And yet, it is going through a major disruption.

On the one hand revenues by major publishers such as EA and Activision, are growing, but on the other hand they are struggling with profitability.

One of the key drivers is the massive transformation from retail distribution to digital distribution: the iphone, online games, and social games – are bypassing the old retail distribution model which charged $30-$60 per title and are reaching directly to consumers with a race to the bottom in terms of pricing.

Another major disruption is the rise of new game genres – most notably social games. Companies which as recent as 3 years ago were unknowns, are now being gobbled for huge sums:  $300M for Playfish (acquired by EA), $763M for Playdom (acquired by Disney), Slide (acquired by Google), Kongregate acquired by GameStop, Zynga is estimated to be worth $3B and can hardly be acquired…

Zynga's Farmville

Social games and casual games are reaching new audiences that previously were out of reach for game developers (survey shows that dominant age group playing social games such as Farmville is women 35-55).

Jesse Schell, instructor of entertainment technology at Carnegie Mellon University  says: “There are games now for pretty much every age, every demographic. More and more women are going online. It comes down to everybody is playing games. Games are just evolving like species in order to fit into every little niche of our lives.”

In parallel to the change in game genres and audiences there is also a massive change in business models. If up until recently games were selling for $30-$50 a pop and required a trip to the store which limited its potential audience – nowadays a new game is a click-to-download away and more and more games are available for free.

Which leads to the next point – a fresh business model that was made for games.

Free2Play + Micro-transactions is a Business Model  that Works Best in Games

web 2.0 has brought about the concept of Freemium business models which help reach massive audiences and drive light speed growth in revenue. Free2Play + micro-transactions is taking it further. Games are much more engaging than any other form of apps and drive the consumption of digital goods. Tying purchase to the compulsion loop in games has proven to be very effective. In the words of ngmoco’s Neil Young – it’s the new “Quarter Sink” from the arcade games era.

Of course, when using micro-transactions in games it’s important not to detract from the experience. Farmville by Zynga is a good example: impatience is the driving factor behind the appeal of micro transactions. And thus the experience is in no way impacted by those with patience and resourcefulness. As long as you avoid the potential pitfalls with micro transactions as articulated by Kevin Miller this business model is a fantastic revenue stream for games. Especially on the iphone where a 99 cent for a virtual weapon needed in the game is just a tap away. Worldwide sales of virtual items are expected to reach $7 billion by 2015, according to online games research firm DFC Intelligence.

Where else (except music) do you find such levels of revenue from digital goods?

Games Are a Key Tool For Marketers to Reach Their Audiences and Bolster Brands

Games are such a powerful medium for engaging audiences, that it is becoming a key tool for marketers to reach their customers and strengthen their brands. Take GE’s Smart Grid interactive campaign featuring augmented reality –  it got more than a million YouTube hits – an order of magnitude higher than equivalent traditional online campaigns. The Advergaming industry had revenues in excess of $3 billion on mobile, iPhone, and social networks platforms. And this is accelerating because digital natives expect to interact with the world through games. New target age groups and demographics are playing games which are more immersive than other types of advertising.

Games have just surpassed email as the #2 online time killer for americans. Guess what’s the first time killer? social networks. And what do people do on social networks? 40% of the time is spent playing games…

Adam Dole (a Design researcher) wrote in his paper : “Games engage consumers and build value around products and services, creating a powerful competitive advantage. The highest level of consumer engagement and brand loyalty comes from positive experience. By reflecting the way people want to act, a product or service more effectively changes attitude and behavior.”

Couldn’t have said it better.

So, games are big, and will get bigger. But how does it relate to AR Games which are played in reality?

Reason #3 Games are Getting Physical

For Digital Natives Gaming has become the primary metaphor for interacting with the world

The next generation (aka digital natives) has evolved to expect a very different way to interact with the world, and it’s largely influenced by games and the internet. They expect everything they interact with – to behave like games: provide challenge and reward loops, fellowship, discovery, narrative, expression. These are game pleasures (loosely taken from Marc LeBlanc’s list) that digital natives are used to – and they seek them in anything they do – in their real lives.

So if games escape computers and consoles and penetrate the real world, how will it impact our lives?

Games have the power to transform our real lives

Really?  Just checkout the Fun Theory Guys’ work. This team is hard at work proving that by injecting fun into daily routines you can change people’s behavior . When presented with multiple options (stairs or escalator) people are more inclined to chose the option that is more fun (playing piano while going up the stairs.)

Gabe Zichermann – which has been touting the funware theory says: “anything can become more fun if you bake games into it. The human brain is attracted to fun. Games can improve the outcome of every aspect in life. Points, rewards, immersion…”

In sales, it has already been used successfully: leaderboards, scoring and badges are a common aspect of sales people in many sectors.

Jane McGonigal takes it further in her Ted Talk and claims: “Games create urgent optimism and blissful productivity.” How could we harness this power to make the world a better place?

Jane McGonigal

Speaking of Jane, she has a track record of applying game mechanics to non game environments: she designed game features in ebay.com to reward sellers for high throughput combined with high satisfaction, by awarding them badged and literally unlocking levels.

Here are more examples listed by Adam Dole (a Design researcher) in his paper about Gaming for Behavior Change:

Mint.com, a financial management tool that leverages gaming principles to successfully capture and expand its market.

When Toyota began visualizing fuel consumption for drivers in their Prius models, they created a “fuel economy game.”

RecycleBank is a web-based service designed to promote recycling. Families accrue points based on the weekly amount of materials recycled; these points can be redeemed for discounts at over 1500 national businesses.

Byron and Leighton in their book: Total Engagement – show how to use games and virtual worlds to change the way people work and businesses compete.

But are websites the most optimal interface to “gamify”  our lives?

Why not insert these same mechanics into our field of view?  Into our visible reality? Into our daily routine?

Augmented Reality and games mechanics is a match made in heaven to reshape our real lives.

But here’s the caveat: when I first gave my 12 year old daughter an AR game to test – she asked: will I have to move…?

Are kids really interested in moving while playing? Will gamers be leaving the comfy couch and beloved controller in exchange for playing in the real world?

Games are Already Moving (Back) into The Real World

Digital natives were born into the digital revolution; they may be shocked by the following revelation: before video games – games were actually played in the real world. Since the dawn of man – playing games was how humans learned new skills. When civilization started 10,000 years ago people have already been playing board games and team games. In 1972 with the introduction of Pong – games have started a transition away from the real world and into the digital realm…

The latest trends in the gaming world (across consoles, social games, and location based games) point to games moving back into the real world: interfaces are becoming more intuitive – losing the traditional game controllers in favor of gestures. This has been aggressively persued in the game console segment: first by the phenomenal success of the Nintendo Wii which opened up new markets for gaming beyond hard core gamers. Sony Eyetoy and Sony Move are taking it a step further with a camera based system that tracks the movement of gamers. Microsoft  Kinect for Xbox (planned to be introduced this holiday season) will not require any controller whatsoever – the player’s body becomes the controller.

In social games, players interact with real life friends instead of imaginary avatars such as DragonSlayer85 which, in a way, is making the games more linked to the real world. In addition, Zynga, the leader in social games, expanded its super successful Farmville game to interact with real world objects. Starting this summer, consumers will be able to purchase specially marked products to receive a redemption code that can be used for a new, limited-edition virtual good in one of three Zynga games. For instance, you can buy a real Big Gulp from 7-Eleven and get a virtual version as well.

Location-based games are emerging and attracting massive audiences. Games such as MyTown which let you buy and own your favorite real-life locations, and collect rent when other people check-in to your shops – has amassed more than 2 million users in several months (more users than Foursquare has!), and has recently introduced Product Check-ins – registering interaction with an actual product by typing in a code.

Facebook, a phenomenal growth engine for social games, is also getting closer to the real world with the recently announced Facebook Places.

Clearly, there is an appetite for gamers to play in the real world. This transition from a made up virtual world that takes place on a screen – to the real world – is already happening. Augmented Reality has the power to accelerate this momentum and along the way introduce a new type of experience to massive audiences.

The Opportunity

Now here’s the big question: if games can advance AR forward, have a huge market potential, and have the power to impact our real lives for the better  – how do you explain the following fact:

The top 18 of 20 paid iphone apps of all time have been games and entertainment (2 are music and 16 are games) and yet, there are only a handful of (mediocre) AR games available on the app store?

How come?

The underlying reason is that good AR games are hard to make. Since the technology is admittedly in its early stages, developing AR games require in house expertise in AR, which are hard to find. Even if you do posses these rare expertise in house – it must be merged with game design skills to take advantage of the technology and create a fun and sustainable game experience.

Building successful AR Games relies on nurturing multiple disciplines and carefully fusing them together – with lots of passion. This has never been done – until now.

Fusion...

This gap between the attractiveness of games in general and the lack of AR games for sale – points to a huge opportunity.

Someone, somewhere is currently working on a killer Augmented Reality game that will completely change the way we look at games, and will catapult Augmented Reality to mainstream awareness. I believe it will be unveiled in the coming months.

Are you it?

Do you have what it takes to make AR Games that reach the mainstream?

The scary world of augmented reality gaming

Today’s augmented reality games are a fun affair, shoot a few aliens, blow up a few planes, or relax and put out a few fires all from the comfort of your own home. The only danger you face is banging your knee on a table as you turn around. But as technology gets more sophisticated and graphics get better, what are the implications of augmented reality games, will the technology make them to hot to handle?

When I brought an xBox some years back and played Grand Theft Auto III for the first time, I thought that some people would have problems separating real life from the game, or at least use it as an excuse in their defence come their day in court. Sure enough a few people went out on violence sprees and did exactly that and as a result the use of violence in video games came under the spotlight.

I love computer games as much as the next man but it’s going to be a scary world when computer games have photorealistic graphics and are blended with augmented reality. Take a look at the following video:

The future of AR gaming?

While it looks cool, (tell me you are not dreaming of AR Quake right now?) what are the implications for games here? On one hand you can’t halt the progress of video gaming because the graphics and therefore the violence gets too real, on the other hand will augmented reality gaming lead to an increase in violence because some people are unable to separate the two?

Augmented Reality Drones: Revenge of the Rovers

In January, flying Augmented Reality Drones stole the show at the Consumer Electronics Show: a quadricopter controlled with an iPhone, that unleashes augmented reality games. What a knock out.

Now it’s time for the land-based vehicles to show what they’ve made of.

Seac02 just published an SDK for developing augmented reality games for the WowWee Rovio.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The PC-based software (dubbed LinceoVR ) not only allows you to control the mobile-webcam Rovio , but can also recognize markers dropped in the perimeter, and overlay on top animated 3d models of enemy robots, weapons of augmented destruction, and more.

In fact, Andrea Carignano’s (Seac02 CEO) big idea is to empower young (and young at heart) out there to create their own augmented reality games.

Andrea explains:

“The Rovio is quite popular with several thousands of customers and a strong following among the tech community worldwide. This one of the reason we have chosen Rovio; the second reason is that you can use it even in an apartment or a really small room.

Rovio is currently available for $229 at Amazon.

The LinceoVR (AR enabling) software will be available next week for €25 and the SDK will ship in 2 months and allow any user to create her own new simple game, share on the internet, launch in a browser, start the plugin and control the drone from anywhere in the world. Nice.