The vibe of the conference was really different than others I’ve attended. Theoretical conversations dominated. There were frequent, open conversations about the current limitations of AR. The perception that AR is often a gimmick that doesn’t provide much real value was a frequent point. The lack of a great hardware/software solution was another common theme. Google Glasses is looked at as an exciting technology. Augmented reality in many ways is still in the hands of researchers looking for algorithms and solutions to problems that don’t exist. With that said, a lot of great ideas are on the verge of going mainstream.
Overall Trends: Mobile, Advertising and Gaming
Pretty much every product revolved around mobile. Qualcomm was front and center with their Vuforia SDK, which is very specifically geared towards iOS and Android. Metaio’s SDK focuses on mobile, and also content creation.
There are a couple companies such as Blippar , Total Immersion, and Gravity Jack who are more focused on branding opportunities. Blippar has done a great job in using quality creative talent to make memorable AR experiences that are less gimmicky. Blippar is an English company, and noone in America has really done the kind of work they have in America.
Ogmento is an AR gaming company, one of the few that are trying to crack the nut of gaming. Their NBA and Dos Equis games are quite interesting. These are still brand engagements at heart. Gaming and AR are lures to pull people in to play.
Sharing is Caring
A key takeaway was that AR was a magical experience that people wanted to share, and hooking that into social media was a common theme. People seem to like sharing the fun marketing stunts people dream up.
I asked Brian Selzer from Ogmento why it seems that no AR games really provide any retention. He said that the issue is that due to the limitations of the tech it is difficult to really provide an experience that allows a user to spend a long period of time playing. I think while this is true, I also think that retention is about wanting people to come back, not just for playing longer. I definitely agree tho, AR technology puts significant time limits on play session length.
I think that AR games need to think more in terms of traditional game mechanics and less about technology in order to make games fun enough that people want to come back. Use proven techniques: itemization, customization, personalization. Focus less on ‘skill-based games in a vacuum’. Spend some time on Raph Koster’s site. Create a process or ‘meta-game’ around your core game loop, and don’t feel the need to use AR for all aspects of the game.
The Big Question: What does AR Add to Gaming?
The burning question for a lot of people is what does AR add to a game? What does AR do that normal games do not? Gaming in itself is a transportive experience. AR is a spatial experience. It is about relating the immaterial and magical with the world as we know it. But gaming is already magical and immersive. When I walk around Azeroth in World of Warcraft, I am more immersed than I am with current AR technology. To me, the Holy Grail of AR gaming is to immerse yourself more than currently exists with a current AAA experience. I think this kind of immersion is a long way off.
Sony Computer Entertainment: Pong
We are literally in the Pong days of AR. Sony has a great AR example on the PS Vita they were showing off. And this was one of the best implementations at the conference. The key to their technology was a high frame rate camera: 60fps. They also used a generic feature tracking system and a great height algorithm to determine flat surfaces. It was fantastic technologically, and showed the potential AR could have.
Sesame Street Workshop
But that doesn’t mean that AR is just a gimmick in games. Sesame Street Workshop showed that AR is a great direction for learning in children. SSW blew me away with their careful user testing, showing that there was fantastic engagement with children. Which makes sense to me: AR is a spatial experience and young children are still trying to comprehend their spatial awareness. AR is a great way to ‘game’ spatial awareness.
Will Wright’s Take
Will Wright, game designer extraordinaire, was on-hand and had some great feedback for AR. His Stupid Fun Club think tank was also on hand to present. One of Will’s visions for AR is for virtual acts to cause actual events in real life. Instead of blowing something up virtually, why not really blow something up? In a TSA-approved fashion, I’m sure. I hope someone’s working on this tech before the commies get it first.
So back to The Big Question: What does AR add to gaming? The Holy Grail of seamless immersion is the direction for many games. But I’m a pragmatist. I look at the discrepancies between the two realities and view it as a given, something to leverage. I think the meshing of the two realities could be the game. Spatially connecting the two spaces and becoming aware of the two is what sets AR apart from other tech.
Imagine a game where you need to find objects through the augmented ‘viewport’ and collect them all. To me this leverages AR tech more than throwing a bowling ball down an augmented lane. The distinction for me is that augmented bowling relies on a meshed reality to provide a simulated experience that doesn’t add any additional value from a standard basketball hoop game. While finding objects in a larger location based augmented space is about the spatial connection itself. You have to be aware of the discrepancy.
The other way that I think AR contributes is through personal expression. Its a new way to express yourself virtually. Imagine augmented reality Minecraft. Chisel away at virtual blocks to create unique environements on top of the existing world. Its a unique method to express yourself. Is it more immersive or better than existing immersion? I don’t know, I think there’s enough questions about the future of Augmented Reality for now.