As recently as May 2017, one of the main problems in the burgeoning virtual and augmented reality market was that the base of users was too small. For the most part, people simply did not have access to hardware that would enable them to experience immersive experiences. In June 2017, Apple completely changed the game with the introduction of ARKit, which turned millions of iPhones and iPads into augmented reality (AR) capable devices overnight. In the weeks that followed, developers around the world began producing some creative demos with ARKit.
3D drawing in AR:
AR measuring tool:
While these AR demos are legitimately impressive, at some point mobile AR’s novelty factor will disappear. When we reach this point, what happens next? How will mobile AR become a consistent part of our daily lives?
One possibility is in AR mobile gaming. Mobile gaming is a huge sector that was worth $41 Billion (USD) in 2016. In this piece, we’ll share how mobile AR has created the possibility of an entirely new type of game experience, a new type of social experience, and the constraints that companies will face as they enter this space.
A new type of gaming experience
In the history of gaming thus far, we’ve largely been confined to sitting or standing in front of 2D screens while remotely controlling characters in a virtual and isolated environment.
No more. As shown in this AR tribute to Space Invaders, with mobile AR gaming, your real environment becomes the game environment. You become the protagonist.
This new level of immersion breeds an entirely new type of gaming experience in which you must navigate and dodge real world obstacles, such as tables and chairs, to emerge victorious. What is possible in the realm of digital gaming when the real world becomes part of the gaming experience? Moreover, how will our lives change once these mobile AR games become social and enable us to connect with people in the real world?
A new type of social experience
Multiplayer gameplay has been around since the Pong and Atari-era of video games.
However, with the rise of games such as Minecraft, gameplay increasingly became social on an entirely new level. By building virtual worlds in Minecraft and sharing these spaces with friends and strangers alike, users could show off their unique creations that reflected their identities. It didn’t take long for the Minecraft phenomenon to hit early ARKit demos:
The desire to express oneself and connect to others is, and always will be, innate to humans at an individual and global scale. Experiences like Minecraft, applied to mobile AR, will add a social gaming layer on top of the real world and enable individuals to leave their unique mark on the real world for others to find and share.
This behavior was best demonstrated by the meteoric rise of Pokémon GO. Despite its subsequent collapse in usage, the explosive growth of this app proved that mass scale social AR gaming was possible to implement from a user experience perspective. That is: people were willing to get off their couches and walk around to capture AR monsters and then meet strangers for battle.
Ultimately, Pokémon GO was an encouraging example of how AR mobile games could compel people to go explore the world and interact with a social layer built on top of the real world.
Constraints for AR Gaming
It’s worth pointing out that smartphones are not the ideal form factor for an AR experience. However, since the iPhone is currently the only mass-market AR device available on the market, this is where the industry will have to focus until AR smart glasses become a widespread consumer phenomenon.
As such, AR mobile gaming will face many of the constraints that traditional 2D mobile games faced: battery life issues, short attention spans, and a reluctance to hold a smartphone for long periods of time, among others. Additional constraints specific to AR include learning, from scratch, the best practices for user experiences in an imperfect medium.
Since smartphones are an imperfect and incomplete form factor for AR experiences, mobile game creators will also be constrained by the limitations of mobile AR generally – with the most obvious issue being the tiny field of view on iPhone screens. This field of view problem can be somewhat resolved by focusing on iPads, which in turn dramatically reduces the potential addressable market while also forcing the user to hold a heavier device to experience AR games.
Despite these constraints, there will be early winners in the mobile AR gaming space. Game developers who can creatively work within the boundaries of mobile AR while creating a compelling user experience will find short term success. Long term success in this space will be determined by an ability to transform a game into a sustainable global phenomenon like Minecraft, while being able to successfully adapt to the inevitable transition to AR smart glasses.