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Augmented Reality Gaming – All your Smartphone are Belong to us!

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Apologies core gamers for defiling your sub-culture’s cult line for my petty purposes!

But after casual games, then social games, now comes the nascent but potentially Tsunami-like phenomenon in the shape of Alternate Reality Gaming (ARG) that could sweep aside all in its path!

And all because of the Smartphone – the gaming console of the masses.

Before we go any further, for the newbies to Augmented Reality Gaming (not to be confused with the acronym sharing Alternate Reality Gaming) here is a short reckoner:

  • Augmented Reality Games are games where computer generated information is overlayed onto a real world location with gameplay that combines the real and virtual worlds
  • Augmented Reality itself isn’t new.  For example, fighter pilots have been using Heads Up Displays (HUDs) and Helmeted Mounted Displays (HMDs) for a long time now. The first ARG is reputed to have been ARQuake, a mod of the popular Quake game, way back in 2000.
  • ARGs have three typical components:
    1. A Viewer in the form of a camera, typically a webcam or your cell phone camera to read the AR information. Also, there are browsers such as Layar which activate the camera and read AR information
    2. The Quick Response (QR) code which provides the AR information and gameplay controls. The functional equivalents of bar codes, these are typically printed out on paper and “embedded” onto real world objects. You can generate your own QR codes 
    3. The Game Core – the game code and programming itself which runs in either the PC or the smartphone.

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Marketers have been quick to recognize the amazing possibilities of Augmented Reality and here are some notable examples of ARGs in advergaming:

  • BWM Z4:  If you never owned a BMW, this game allows you to race a virtual BMW Z4 roadster on your desktop. All you need is a computer with a webcam and a print out of the QR. The game has an added twist –the artist in you can create drawings on your desktop by driving the virtual BMW, which has colored tire marks. This innovative UK campaign was tied in with a TV commercial as well.
  • Lego Platformer: This is a really cute3D  platform game developed for Android phones – label different LEGO Duplo bricks with QR labels to create your own game level. Then navigate the LEGO avatar to a treasure through a platform style game.
  • Red Bull Racer: Developed for the iPhone this fun AR racing game has just one catch – you need to buy Red Bull cans – 12 of them – to create you very own track, in whatever shape you want. Use your iPhone to tag the cans, and off you go racing!
  • Copan: What do Ireland and Mayan civilization have in common – beats me! But check out this fun treasure hunt ARG where you must roam the streets of Dublin to locate clues. Available on both the iPhone and on Android this ARG stands out for the scale of implementation and some really cool prizes that were given away!

As the last three examples are all on Smartphones, it just shows how ARGs have really come into their own when deployed on Smartphones. Here’s why:

  • Usability! Since the cool thing about ARGs is the real world environment that is being augmented, it is just easier to use a Smartphone as a platform than lug around even the tiniest of notebooks.
  • Unique gameplay! Smartphones come with compass, GPS, and accelerometers as default.This allows game designers to provide a unique gameplay experience for ARGs that cannot be mirrored on non-mobile devices, at least not easily.
  • SOLOMO! As VC guru   god John Doerr’s latest mantra goes for apps – SOLOMO– Social, Local, and Mobile, ARGs on smartphones pass this test with flying colors as illustrated below

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Has your company explored the use of AR and ARGs? What’s the reaction been like? How does your marketing team plan to capture the Mobile mindshare? Comments are open!

Next time I’ll post about the other ARG – Alternate Reality Gaming and its advergaming applications.

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