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.

Weekly Augmented Reality Linkfest

It’s time again for the weekly linkfest, a collection of augmented reality news stories that I didn’t find the time to blog about during the past week:

This week’s video comes to us from Nokia Research, showing their indoor navigation solution. Coming from Nokia Research, one of the first bodies to look into mobile AR, this should be considered as no more than a teaser. It’s very cool and alluring with its 30cm accuracy, and its “where I put my keys” functionality, but not likely to be adopted anytime soon. Five years from now, Apple/Google will probably come with inferior solution which will be hugely successful. You can read more about the technology on GSM Arena.

Have a great week!

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 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:, 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.


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?

Weekly Linkfest

The last weekly linkfest before the augmented reality event, and the last one in the next couple of weeks. Here’s what happened this week in the world of augmented reality:

This week’s video is a video presentation for QderoPateo’s Ouidoo, the articulated naturality device. I don’t know if it’s official, but seeing this video I understand why the avoid using the term augmented reality. A much better term is surrealism:

Have a great week, see you in ARE2010!

Who Should Attend The Augmented Reality Event in Santa Clara, CA June 2nd & 3rd, 2010

Over the last 2 years we have seen growing interest in Augmented Reality in various events – panels, dev camps, meetups – and many more. Due to growing demand for knowledge and expertise in augmented reality (AR), a group of AR industry insiders, backed by the AR Consortium have put together the first commercial event dedicated to advance the business of augmented reality.

How is are2010 different from ISMAR…

…previously touted here as the “World’s best Augmented Reality event”?

Well, ISMAR is still the best AR event for the scientific community. If you want to learn about (or present) the latest advancements in AR research – you should be in Seoul this October for ISMAR 2010. However, for the rest of us, who wish to take advantage of AR in practice, in the commercial world, and build a business around it – there was a gaping hole.

That is, until now.

Meet the Augmented Reality Event.

Who’s this event for?

For established and start up AR companies –

For established and start up AR companies (such as Total Immersion, Metaio, Acrossair, Ogmento,, Mobilizy, Layar, Zugara, Neogence, whurleyvision, Chaotic Moon Studios, and many more) – are2010 is a stage to showcase their products and services; a venue to form partnerships, learn about latest innovations, and most importantly speak with clients. Bruno Uzzan, CEO of Total Immersion will wow the audience with a cutting edge augmented reality show; Peter Meier, CTO of Metaio, will speak about his companies latest products. Early stage startups and individual developers will receive guidance from Cole Van Nice (Chart Venture Partners) for how to build a successful company in the AR space, including raising funding (from VCs that actually invest in AR), licensing technology and IP, legal aspects, forging partnerships, etc. Christine Perey will speak about the scope of the mobile AR industry today and it’s growth trajectory.

For Developers –

For developers, are2010 is a window into the latest AR algorithms, engines and programming tools. Learn from case studies and post mortems delivered by experienced developers from the leading companies in the space. Blair MacIntyre, director of the GVU Center’s Augmented Environments Lab at Georgia Tech, will speak about his experience with tools and technologies while developing augmented reality games. Daniel Wagner, one of the leading mobile AR researchers in the world, will bring developers into the wonderful world of mobile AR. Patrick O’Shaughnessey, which has lead the development of more webcam-based AR campaigns than anyone else I know – will share his knowledge of what works and what doesn’t. Mike Liebhold, Distinguished Fellow at the Institute for the Future , will speak about Technology foundations of an Open ARweb. Gene Becker, co-founder of AR DevCamp, will dive into augmented reality and ubiquitous computing, and Sean White, a pioneer in Green Tech AR will suggest concrete examples of how AR can help save the planet

For Mobile, Hardware, and Platform Companies

For Mobile, Hardware, and Platform companies (such as Vuzix, Nokia, Qualcomm, Intel, QderoPateo, Microsoft, Google, Apple etc.) are2010 consists of a captive audience to launch and showcase their latest devices, processors, AR glasses, sensors, etc. The best collective minds of the AR commercial world will be onsite to articulate the market demand characteristics and help influence the design of future hardware.

For Clients and Agencies –

For clients and agencies in entertainment, media, publishing, education, healthcare, government, tourism, and many more – are2010 offers everything you need to know about AR: how to leverage augmented reality to advance your brand, attract and keep your customers, and how to build successful campaigns and products that will delight users, including postmortems of landmark augmented reality projects.

Jarrell Pair, CTO and a founder of, will speak about “Augmented Reality in Music Entertainment: Then and Now”, Brian Selzer, co-founder and President of Ogmento, will deliver a crash course for clients and agencies about how to leverage AR in marketing campaigns. Marshal Kirkpatrick, lead blogger for ReadWriteWeb, will share the results of his AR survey collecting feedback from dozens of AR developers and their experience in delivering AR campaigns and apps. Kent Demain, designer of the visual effects in Minority Report, will open our minds with the talk: “Taking Hollywood visual effects spectacle out of the theatre and into your world”. And of course…

For any AR Enthusiast –

Are you an AR Enthusiast? If so, you’re going to feel like a kid in a candy store at ARE, with a soon-to-be unforgettable keynote by Bruce Sterling, demo gallery, exhibitors from leading companies, artists installations from AR artists such as Eric Gradman and Helen Papagiannis, and many more surprises.

If you are into Augmented Reality – are2010 is the one event you should attend this year.

Want to join the event? Early registration is now open!

Best Selling Augmented Reality Games of 2009

In my pursuit of the ultimate augmented reality game – 2009 was a landmark year. From 0 to 30 selling games in 4 months is nothing short of stunning (and makes my 2010 prediction of 10x more AR games – not too bold…;)

Games on my iPhone

2009 was the year AR games broke from the lab into the hands of consumers – and this post celebrates that achievement.

So how to start reviewing the flood of AR games?

By Platform? By Genre? By commercial success? By Game Mechanic? Let’s try these out.

By Platform

Augmented Reality games have been developed for a multitude of platforms such as PC/Mac, Nokia phones, Windows Mobile phones, Android phones, PDAs with cameras, Nintendo DSi, and the Gizmondo. But, in 2009, the most lucrative platform for developers, with the broadest distribution by far was…surprise, surprise – the iPhone. In fact, all games on our list – save for one exception – were developed for the iPhone.

So the traditional way of reviewing games by platforms won’t do for this year’s review.

By Genre

Another popular approach to group games is by genre. When it comes to AR games genres, there’s a bit more variety than platforms: this year we have seen mostly shooters, but also horror games, a treasure hunt, and even one driving game.

Still, the limited variety this year does not merit a breakdown by genre, just not yet.

By Commercial Success

I would have loved to provide you with a sorted list of games by revenue. Unfortunately, this information is not yet public. My guesstimate is that the most commercially succesful AR game of 2009 was in fact released for the PSP – not the iPhone. You guessed it: Sony’s Invizimals (Developed by Novarama). Lay traps (markers) around your real environment, and use the PSP Camera to hunt down invisible animals and capture them. Simply described by users as “like having a real life pokemon…”
In addition to introducing a unique experience, Invizimals boasts a high production value and critics have been raving about it with a 7.7 average rating.

A quick look at Amazon’s rankings (UK only) reveals that this game is #1 among PSP simulation games (and that is before it has even reached the US!)

However, comparing these indicators with Apple’s app store rankings will be like comparing apples to oranges (pun intended). Hence, this year I resort to slicing and dicing the AR games of 2009 – by game mechanic.

By Game Mechanic

The term “Game mechanics” is defined by game design scholars as “a construct of rules intended to produce an enjoyable game“. What fascinates me in Augmented Reality is that it enables a whole new set of mechanics never before seen in video games. In 2009 we have barely scratched the surface. No one knows what new game mechanics AR will unleash next, but it will surely be a lot of fun, alfresco.

Following our Letter to Apple, a new iPhone SDK was released (a coincidence?) with the ability to overlay graphics on live video. This, enabled a totally new game mechanic for the iPhone, and although Apple failed to offer public access to the iPhone’s live video (an essential capability for analyzing pixels for aligning graphics with real world objects) – the iPhone became overnight the preferred device for Augmented Reality Games.

So what’s the crop so far?

A quick search for augmented reality games on the app store reveals this amazing list:

Let’s make sense of it.

360 Shooters

The top game mechanic of AR games on the iphone uses the compass and accelerometer (3GS only) to compute your orientation and overlay graphics on the iPhone screen as if the action is happening all around you in 360 degrees. Bottom line: it makes you move! (and no need to print markers…)

Kids would love it, right? It’s actually a double edge sword. When I asked my daughter (12) to test such a game she raised her head from facebooking in her immobilized position and asked: “will I have to move”?

This is typical to gamers. Take one of the gaming world luminaries, Tim Schafer, who recently told Wired: “When I’m gaming, I like to sit on the couch and move as little as possible”

Here is a chronological list of 360 shooter games on the iPhone. The first game to take the plunge and be accepted on the iPhone app store was:

1) Fairy Trails
Released by Freeverse on September 26

Vodpod videos no longer available.

As a developer of best selling apps for the iPhone, Freeverse decided not to go for the obvious shooter and delivered a fairy tale based theme with pleasant visuals and sounds. A clever design choice given the technical limitations: flying fairy things tend to fly slowly, all around you, and grabbing them with fairy dust (by tapping) is not as intense an action as shooting spaceships.

Turn your iPhone into a magical creature-detector with Fairy Trails! This augmented reality game opens a window to the fairy world, revealing fireflies, colorful butterflies and the ever elusive fairies. Shake your device to power the detector and then scan your surroundings…to merge the real world and game world in spectacular ways! Simply tap the creatures to collect them in your jars.

Reviews are enchanted by the new mechanic but are largely neutral (“a novelty?” by PocketGamer).

One element missing from Fairy Trails is a radar view that shows where the creatures are located around you – an element that was added in subsequent games.

2) Arcade Reality
Released by ToySpring on Oct 9th 2009
(Originally released in 2007 on Palm Treo and previously reviewed on games alfresco)

Toyspring didn’t go too far with the theme choice: shooting aliens. Once you overcome the tacky-wacky design it can get pretty addictive. It has a functional HUD (with a radar view showing alien ships in 360 degrees) and is reminiscent of classic Arcade shooters: the center of the screen is the cross hair – press the shoot button to kill. For my son (16) it is a throw back to the good ol’ days of Chuck E. Cheeses.

For over 30 years millions of aliens are slaughtered daily in video games. Until now they could not attack us in the real world…
Unlike most games where you only train your fingers, you must actually move to play Arcade Reality!

Arcade Reality is a low-brow shooter game with addictive qualities and it led the way for other variations on the theme.

3) Mosquitoes
Released by Makayama Software on Nov 1st 2009
(Previously reviewed by games alfresco)

Is it a game? Or is it a simulation of real life mosquitoes hunting?

Mosquitoes is a bare-bones game that uses the compass+accelerometer mechanic to overlay mosquitoes (and their annoying buzzing sound) on live video in 360 degrees. Tap a mosquito to kill it. That’s it.

Some people thought it was a sham. Just riding the AR wave.
However, the key issue is the mechanic. It doesn’t work in a believable way. There is no proper coordination between player movement, visuals on the screen, and the consequence of tapping the screen. It feels somewhat random.

The gamer’s verdict: not really a game…

4) – ARGH – AR Ghost Hunter
Released by Off Panel Productions on Nov 4th 2009

The theme is compelling: Hunt for ghosts in the real world.

Use your iPhone as a set of Ghost Goggles to see into the ethereal plane. Ghosts actually exist in specific locations everywhere. Using Augmented Reality technology, ARGH determines where you are and where you’re facing, and shows you what ghosts exist around you.

Ghosts themed games land itself very nicely to the 360 shooter mechanic; ghosts don’t have to be perfectly aligned with the real world to look believable…

But is it fun?

Reviews weren’t too favorable. The best found to say about it was: “ARGH festively debuted on this glorious Friday the 13th” and “could double as a fitness app”…but summed it up as “felt like a short-lived gag”

Still, ARGH was a brave attempt and we couldn’t wait to see what augmented reality games emerge next.

Fun fact: A similar game (Ghostwire) was previously developed for Nokia phones and won awards.

5) Fire Fighter 360
Released by Presselite Nov 10th 2009

I was excited to see the game announcement by Presselite, a creator of prominent AR applications. I was especially intrigued by the choice of theme: instead of shooting aliens, let’s use AR to do good (fight fires)!

The graphics and sound track seemed polished (90’s style), and the story was to die for. But was it any fun?

Here are snippets of my son’s reaction while playing:

– “I can’t lose a half baked game like this” (huh?)
– “ahhh…!” (when getting “burned”)
– “Just doing my job” (when succeeded in putting out a fire)
– “I can hear it but I can’t see it!” (missing radar view)
– “nice dramatic effects” (always positive…)
And here is his verdict: “it felt like I was nursing the game…please work for me game…” or in other words…he felt pity for the game.

Why so harsh?

Because flames – unlike mosquitoes, spaceships or fairies – do not just float in mid air, but usually come out of a specific object. The game mechanic limitations (inability to perfectly align graphics with objects) just didn’t work out for this game. Great attempt; bad game design choice.

6) Ghost Hunt AR
Released by NeverBored Studios Nov 10th 2009

A copy cat of previous Ghost hunting games that didn’t even come with a YouTube video…

7) Pandemica
Released by XMG Studios on Nov 19th 2009


XMG was able to generate nice buzz in the media during the game launch, and delivered high production value to support the hype. It also introduces multiplayer support (over Bluetooth or Wi-Fi) so that players can work together as a team to dominate and destroy the aliens.

A new design choice in the game was introduced: you can tap anywhere on the screen to shoot an alien ship.

Pandemica transforms your device into a sub-field bio-scanner that can see the invisible alien organisms that are all around you. Your mission is to eliminate the enemy before they get you—and you get gooed. Unlock weapons such as: Missiles, CEB (Continuous Electron Beam), and the BFB (Bosonic Field Bomb) to complement your trusty standard-issue Laser.

Here’s my gamer’s perspective: robust game play, movement made sense, wasn’t a hassle to play…

The game was also a media darling with positive reviews:  5 stars by AppStore HQ and A+ by SlapApp

8) Cam Wars
Released by Gamedokan Japan on Dec 8th 2009

One more spaceships shooter, this time from Japan…

Spaceships attacks the earth.
You can shoot the lasers by touching.
Sweep away the enemies and save the earth!

Besides the Tokyo tower in the backgroung – there is nothing new about this game. In fact it’s a step backwards from previous attempts with this game mechanic.

And there’s more of the same from Gamedokan: SplatCam and Virtual Slingshot – all variations on the same mechanic.

9) 0ghost and 0santa
Released v1.1 by 0cog on Dec 9th 2009

Yet another Ghost themed game, this time from a self proclaimed leader in Augmented Reality (AR) and advanced software development located in Silicon Valley…

zeroGhost will turn your iPhone into a ghost hunting tracking device allowing you a glimpse into their plane of existence. While you hunt them, they try and steel your life energy until either you or they are dead. Problem is, there are many more of them, than you.

Couldn’t find any reviews or videos about this game, and the game site is very laconic.  I typically buy and try games I review, and I would have tried 0Ghost myself, but not for $4.99!

A second game from 0Cog uses a similar mechanic – but this time – with a Christmas theme…meet ZeroSanta:

When you see Santa, throw snowballs at him and receive gifts in return. Be careful not to hit the reindeer or they will return to the North Pole with Santa.

10) Augmented Reality Dimension Invaders
Released by Rapidito Games on Dec 16 2009

The latest game to make it to the store has a nice screenshot, but doesn’t surpass the previous games in any other way.

They have broken the barriers between dimensions to come to our reality.
They are coming to kill the human race. They are coming to kill you!
But you have the most powerful weapon. You can see the enemy spaceships through your iPhone camera. You can look for them in the app left bottom radar, point them with the cross hair and shoot touching anywhere on the screen.

Tap anywhere on the screen, but you only shoot the alien in the crosshair.

Overall – I give it a “meh…”
Some reviews were more generous with a 8/10 by i4U

That concludes the list of 360 shooters launched in 2009. Best games in this category: Arcade Reality and Pandemica.


Photo Augmenting (or Phogmenting)

What other AR mechanics are possible on the iPhone?

Several notable companies thought that overlaying graphics on a static picture taken by the user – is cool.

I want to believe these apps were originally conceived as true AR apps (overlaying graphics on real life objects) – but since Apple didn’t make the elusive video API public – they had to settle for a workaround: take a picture of your real live object – and then overlay AR as if it were the real world…

This mechanic did have an advantage. It didn’t rely on overlaying graphics on live video – a feature that became available on the iPhone only in September. The first game appeared as early as June.

Here is the lowdown of the next mechanic I like to call – phogmenting.

11) The Hidden Park
Released by Bulpadok originally in June 2009

A brilliant use of the photo augmenting mechanic:

The Hidden Park is a magical adventure that your kids will love. It’s an afternoon out for the whole family that won’t break the bank. It’s a groundbreaking blend of fantasy and reality. Enjoy.

It uses nice graphics and a story to get the young (and young at heart) outdoors to play a treasure hunt-like game.

It’s tied to specific parks – but the Park Builder allows you to localize the adventure for your own local park. Although it’s not using augmented reality in the scientific sense – it’s inspired by AR concepts and could transform one day into a magnificent AR game.

Bulpadok reused the technology developed for The Hidden Park to create another (free) app:

12) Fairies Everywhere
Released by Bulpadok and Conduct

Briefly spotted in Apple’s top 25 application for kids games?

Fairies Everywhere reveals magical creatures in your own photos. Take a photo and you’ll see that fairies live all around us! All the time!
It’s an entertaining game for kids that creates memorable portraits for everyone – from dad to grandma and beyond. Get discounts to order prints of your fairy photos online.

As much as Hidden Park hit the spot – Fairies Everywhere was disappointing: how many times do I want to see the same fairies superimposed on my living room pictures…?

(Unlike the Hidden Park it didn’t really give any incentive to go alfresco)

13) – Drift
Released by HIT Lab NZ on Nov 5th 2009 (independent company from HIT Lab NZ Research center)

I tried hard to have fun with this game – but besides the believable engine roar and the cool music – I did not succeed…
To be fair, it’s likely this game was originally conceived as a true AR app – overlaying  muscle car CG making doughnuts – on live video). It’s probably reverted to a static image to be allowed on the app store.

I can imagine this game being a tad more fun if played on dynamic video; players would be manipulating the iPhone to control the car around the marker-card laid in the middle of your own room.

While at it – HIT Lab released another game with a similar mechanic (photogmeting) – this time it’s a revenge against bugs dubbed: Splatter Bugs

One user comment I caught online says it all: “whew, the video saved me from getting this.”

Nuff said.

14) GEO Chaser
Released by Michael Zitzelsberger on Nov 19th 2009

Go geochasing friends and strangers with your iPhone. Play it inconspicuous like an agent, hidden like a ninja or offensive like a pirate. GeoChaser uses GPS to locate you and your opponents. Your positions will be displayed on a map.

Unfortunately, the GPS+compass combo isn’t accurate enough to help you identify targets. But it’s probably more fun than matching tweets with tweeters – as many apps do today.

15) Gunman
Released by Stage Two Labs on Dec 8th 2009

“Laser tag meets urban paintball in an epic battle against your friends, a heart pounding adventure that puts you and your iPhone directly in the line of fire.”

The game looks awesome in the video. In reality, the players generate the fun – not the game. What’s its “added value”?

When shooting a photo of your opponent, it recognizes the color of your opponent’s shirt. If it’s a hit – it will make your opponent’s iPhone vibrate. Neat? Yes! Augmented? Ah…who cares. Is it enough to become a best selling game? It will have to do more than vibrate.

AR history buffs among you will remember this game was originally conceived way back in 2007 for the Android phone; does Wifi Army ring a bell? Or the Lumix Battle commercial?

The world is the battlefield, your phone is your weapon. Players organize in 2 teams armed with cell phones with the goal to locate and take pictures of their opponents. The phone compares captured pictures against a database of player faces and awards points for correct hits.

Nevertheless, Stage Two deserve kudos for thinking about fun before technology – and making it happen.


Marker Tracking

16) AR Quoits
Released by NaPanda in Dec 2009

Toss virtual rings by flicking your finger onto a blue circle (drawn on on a white page). The circle is overlaid with an upright peg. Try to hit the peg. The farther the distance – the higher the points you score.

This was a huge surprise. The app is poorly designed, and it seems like it was put together in a haste. However, this is the only app on the store that actually analyzes the pixels on the screen (looks for the blue circle) and overlays graphics (the yellow upright peg) so it’s perfectly aligned with the circle. Yes it’s blinking, the tracking is far from being robust, and the game play is definitely not much fun…but it’s the closest thing to augmented reality you will  find on the app store in 2009.

A bunch of other games on the app store claim to be “Augmented Reality Games” as well. They weren’t. But they weren’t fun either, which is where I draw the line. Here’s the list of…

Games that didn’t make the list

Overlaying flying bullets aimlessly on a camera view doesn’t cut it for me. Not even if I have a bunch of switch  weapons to choose from. And yet, such games sprung up like mushrooms after an October rain: MGD (Most Dangerous Game), Assassins FPS by Differentium, iPew by Wumbitz, Firepower by Todd Hopkinson, VRArsenal by Quickdecay, First Person Shooter by Blueriversa, HandsUp by Assaf Waisler (introducing a new weapon – kisses). hiBubble by BorderTown and Snowglobe by Maverick, get a special mention for breaking away from weapons, and  blowing bubbles and snow respectively, instead. Does anyone play these games, or are they just too tempting to build?

Wanted Dead or Alive by Poulet Maison (House Chicken in French) has style. I admit. The sound track sets the expectations for a AAA game – but sending friends photos of my appliances riddeled with bullet holes – isn’t my kind of fun.

Games to inspire Augmented Reality Games

Location-based games could be considered the older cousins of augmented reality games. Together, they could form a very powerful gaming experience. Here are some inspiring location-based games:

iSpy by SplitP is based on an extremely simple yet clever concept: take photos of real world objects and challenge other people to try and find it – it’s all about getting out and experiencing the real world – games alfresco style.

Turf Wars by MeanFreePath is a very ambitious game that takes Zynga’s Mafia Wars to the streets – literally. Nurture a mafia family and gain turf in your hood. Imagine what could happen if added a pinch of AR to this scenario…

Take over real-world territory in your neighborhood with Turf Wars, the new GPS-enabled crime game for your iPhone and iPod Touch! Turf Wars is the massively multiplayer online game where you claim and defend real-world territory from other mobsters.

Parallel Kingdom by PerBlue

Parallel Kingdom is a mobile location based massively multiplayer game that uses your GPS location to place you in a virtual world on top of the real world.

Through this game, you can almost see how MMOs and virtual worlds will look like after migrating from PC screens to the real streets.

Booyah by MyTown – location-based games meet monopoly.

Buy and own your favorite real-life locations. Collect rent when other people check-in to your shops. Upgrade your shops to increase their value.

Eye Hound (GPS) by Counterwinds

Get away from your pursuers in an augmented reality survival. Turn your everyday life environment into a playing field : you’re tracked down by ennemies’ satellites, escape from the area watching over, in the time alloted.

Eye Hound pulls you in with great graphics, sound effects, and promising a unique interaction – but the action is soooo000 repetitive that it wipes out all the positive points. It might be an alternate reality game – but not an augmented one.

Apps to inspire Augmented Reality games

Sometime apps can inspire games as well; watch out for these wanna-be-games apps as they evolve. They look like apps, they talk like apps – but when you do something good like checking into a bar – you get points, badges, or if you’re a frequent patron, you could even become the mayor of your favorite pub. These apps marry social networks with GPS to help you explore your city in new ways.

Foursquare – introduced at SXSW in March 2009: earn points and unlock badges for
discovering new places, doing new things and meeting new people
Gowalla – a more playful take on Foursquare
CauseWorld – same mechanics with a socially responsible spin: points you earn transform into sponsored donations to important causes.

Finally, lets us dedicate a moment to…

Apps that didn’t make it to the app store

Virus Killer 360 by Acrossair

Put a Spell (Developed by Arballoon; Published by Ogmento)

Have you been rejected from the app store? Tell us your story.


That concludes our review of Augmented Reality games in 2009. Overall, we have reviewed more than 20 AR games, and identified several highlights and a handful of disappointments.

The biggest achievement of the year: tens of thousands of players got their hands dirty with AR games for the first time in history. And the promise is much bigger. Prepare for 10x more games in 2010.

And keep in mind: to make these games 10x more fun, we’ll need better design – not necessarily better technology.

Wanted! Game designers! Game designers! Game designers!

Happy New Year to our devoted readers and contributors. A million thanks to our own Rouli for an amazing coverage of the augmented reality scene. And finally, welcome to our fantastic new author – Tom Carpenter.

2010 will unveil an awesome reality.

Weekly Linkfest

Another week has passed by, and it’s time again for our weekly linkfest. I kept this one short by skipping some of the more redundant links I’ve collected along the week. Hope it makes the linkfest more readable:

This week’s video comes from Ogmento. It’s a spelling game that features an augmented panda to entice kids into playing. Since it would feel a bit incestuous to write a full post about it (and Ori was apparently too shy to mentioned it himself on Games Alfresco), this really charming video was relegated to the weekly linkfest, but it deserves better. Luckily, Thomas wrote about it, here.

Have a nice week!