A Better Reality: Why Augmented Reality Mobile Games are a Gift to Communities Everywhere

Augmented Reality (or AR) is a phenomenon that can’t help but fascinate the little curious tech-lover in all of us. Its ability to seemingly transform our world into new spaces, transcending the boundaries of the mundane, and presenting new opportunities to achieve the impossible is unlike any kind of game out there. Places we know will suddenly come to life, filled with all the dragons, monsters, and adventures skilled developers can conjure.

However, most of the world seem to believe the AR phenomena is a gimmick, and a dying breed- an inside joke between two coders in a back room somewhere, offering no more to the public than fads, and future-less prototypes. These assumptions couldn’t be further from the truth. What AR mobile game developers have done to the gaming industry is astounding. In just a few successful cases, and more to come, AR mobile games have transformed not just the gaming community, but all communities everywhere.

Gaming Revolutionised: Pokemon Go, Ingress, and Niantic

Augmented reality mobile games have found the most success in the ‘location-based’ mobile game genre, where GPS signals are used to send players across real-world maps to complete tasks. It began in 2012, when upstart game developer Niantic Labs created Ingress- a location-based AR game where players ‘choose a side’ (blue or green), travelling the world (not the game world- the real world), fighting monsters, collecting artefacts, and claiming territory.

A world map of Ingress ‘portals’, created by Niantic. This map only covers a small fraction of portals worldwide, with an estimated 5 million portals set up by players across the world as of January 2016

The game was popular in its time, with over 14 million people playing across 200 countries, generating over £1 million for the San Francisco Studio.

With the success of Ingress, and location-based augmented reality mobile games, Niantic teamed up with Nintendo to create instant megahit Pokemon Go. The return of beloved Pokemon characters to mainstream screens combined with the novelty of AR helped make Pokemon Go the biggest mobile game in US history. Overall, Niantic’s second AR title racked up over 29 million daily users at its peak and a grand total of 750 million downloads, earning the studio over $1 billion in revenue.

In the gaming department alone, the scope of Ingress and Pokemon Go and their rapid ascent to record-breaking popularity is unprecedented, and proof that there is a future for augmented reality mobile games. However, these games are much more beneficial than they appear.

Augmented Reality Games on Mobile- What the Real Hype is About

What we don’t realise, when we’re fighting off monsters to claim a portal at a local restaurant in Ingress, or catching Pokemon on our local high street in Pokemon Go, is what happens outside our own augmented worlds when we’re playing- how far we travel, how many places we visit, and how many people we meet. We get lost in our own experiences, failing to grasp the impact augmented reality has on ourselves, and the world around us.

While parents in the past have pushed their kids to go outside rather than watch their screens all day, in today’s world of augmented reality mobile games, players are increasingly outside and on the move. While Ingress players have collectively walked over 250 million kilometers (about 18 miles per person), for Pokemon Go that count rises to 8.7 billion kilometers as of December 2016- enough to circle the Earth 200,000 times. Not only is this advantageous for players in terms of physical exercise and fresh air, but equally, gamers are pushed to visit new places worldwide. The more ground you cover in location-based AR games, the more successful you’ll be. Therefore, AR mobile games prompt people to experience new cultures, visit historical landmarks, and meet new people. It prompted players such as Daniel Bartlett (as The New Scientist reports) to make 500-mile trips across the UK to defend his Ingress portals, connecting with 50 players across Europe. Eventually, driven to these locations by their drive to claim territory, or catch Pokemon from their smartphone, players such as Daniel can lift their eyes from their screens, and see a new world around them.

Millions of Pokemon Go players have been taking to the streets in groups to find and catch their favourite Pokemon.

What’s more, augmented reality mobile games have been a gift to businesses around the world. Niantic partnered with various different companies, putting Pokestops at their locations to attract gamers there. Businesses held discount offers for those who had downloaded Pokemon Go on their smartphones, driving up revenue. In an article by Pocket Gamer, in a partnership between Niantic and Mcdonald’s Japan, the restaurant’s boost in visits could have generated between $900,000 and $3 million for the company. A Slant Magazine survey of 500 Pokemon Go players concluded that 51% of players visited a business for the first time because of the game, and 71% only visited a business because there were Pokestops or Gyms nearby. Businesses could also purchase ‘lures’ to attract Pokemon to their locations, and 68% of people visited a business purely because there were lures in the area. On average, gamers spent $11 when they visit the business, showing that augmented reality mobile games reap not just higher footfall, but actual revenue as well.

Already, businesses are taking notice of how beneficial AR mobile games can be, creating their own AR location-based mobile systems. In the theme an upcoming addition to their park, Disney have created a Star Wars AR mobile game for guests at their Walt Disney World Resort hotels, featuring what is projected to be a holochess game, as well as ‘Jedi Challenges’ and mission-based gameplay, where players use AR lightsabers to fight enemies. Augmented reality mobile games have become not just a revenue and marketing tool for businesses, but equally a tool to promote future projects.

The new Official Star Wars Mobile App, created by Disney in partnership with Lenovo.

Aside from pushing people to experience new cultures, augmented reality mobile games are (and will) help people explore their own. Light-hearted and mainstream titles are only the tip of the iceberg for what AR mobile games can offer gamers in the future. Last year, small-time studio Invisible Flock released ‘If You Go Away’, a melancholic, scripted apocalyptic exploration game, using AR to teach players about the city they live in.

Designed purely for the streets of Leeds, Southampton, South Kensington, Warwick University and Middlesbrough, the game is described by their website as “a new art game [that] takes you on a journey through your streets made strange and new.” Guided purely through text-messages, players walk through their hometowns “haunted by the echoes of the city before, the city now and the city to come”, this effect achieved by headsets playing past sounds of specific locations, and Snapchat-like filters presenting buildings as they would have looked decades previously. Players can even interact with their environment and collaborate with others, leaving objects and virtual messages on walls to help their friends progress in the storyline.

The new heights ‘If You Go Away’ reaches in gaming shows how revolutionary augmented reality mobile games can be. By implanting such tones, times, and game elements onto players’ own backyards, developers teach us not only about the culture and area we live in, but about ourselves as well- who we are, and where we’ve come from.

A Future Worth Investing In

With the technology surrounding augmented reality still new and complex, the irritating need for additional clunky accessories, and questions as to whether production is worth the expense, the future of AR mobile gaming remains uncertain.

Regardless however, the investment is worth it.

The success of Ingress, and the even bigger success of Pokemon Go (sure to experience a boost in sales following the recent release of so-called Legendary Pokemon) shows that AR games in their current state are not a fad, and could have staying power. Already, studios are starting to experiment with new forms of AR, and flexing the technology’s muscles; virtual AR sandbox games such as ‘Woorld’ allow players to shoot aliens coming out of wormholes in house walls, paddle boats through waterlogged hallways, and shelter themselves from indoor rainstorms. The possibilities for lighter, simpler and cheaper titles are endless, but as we’ve seen from previous titles, AR mobile games are much more than just light-hearted, 5-second experiences to be laughed off and forgotten.

Augmented reality mobile games are the reason we play video games. They spark our yearning for adventure, allowing us to explore new locations, the map as vast as we’re willing to travel. They allow us to experience new cultures, and new people in the real world, making deeper, more meaningful connections with those we play with, meeting face-to-face rather than from behind a screen. Most of all, augmented reality mobile games allow us to understand who we are. As we play through ourselves rather than virtual puppet protagonists, in real-world settings rather than those drawn-up by developers, we become immersed in personal journeys more than virtual ones. Places we’ve been connected to since childhood become unrecognisable, prompting us to see our homes in a new way, as the familiar is made strange, and the strange familiar.

In truth, augmented reality mobile games do not present an alternate reality to players. It presents our own one, right back at us, in a greater, grander spotlight.

One To Watch

In development by Foxtail Games, an indie gaming studio based out of Atlanta, Georgia. Brave Explorers allows players to build video game levels with real-world toys. In Brave Explorers, the user will play as one of many Explorers. The Explorers are a mysterious species that have been living among us here on Earth for many years. Unfortunately, the Explorers have long had to fend for themselves, invisible to us on this harsh planet. Thankfully, with the coming of the Brave Explorers app, we can finally see these brave little explorers, and do our best to help them to survive. It’s our job to build levels that can protect them from the cold environment of this planet, dangerous monsters, and even other thieving Explorers.

Learn more about Brave Explores on their website, including signing up to their mailing to ensure you hear first when the game is released.

Support Foxtail Games:

Instagram: @Foxtailgames
Twitter: @Foxtail_Games
Facebook: /foxtailgamesofficial
YouTube: Foxtail Games

What Can You Do?

In order to ensure such augmented reality games are continually made on mobile, it’s important to help those who are supporting this technology. Here at ANDi, we are committed to promoting augmented reality and virtual reality titles, accessories and games, working with AR developers to ensure their products are being discovered and purchased worldwide. Through writing reviews of various AR products and accessories, and offering discounts on the products of our partners, ANDi will ensure the public are made aware of augmented reality products and games, and are able to purchase them easily. Hopefully, through our contributions and support, we will allow augmented reality mobile games to reach their full potential.

For more information on ANDi, or to contact us to discuss your AR project please visit www.get-andi.com.