"Pokémon Go – Where Does AR Go From Here?"
With estimates of 65 million users within a week of release in only three countries, Pokemon Go has become the talking point of the gaming world, the tech world and the world full stop. As stalwarts of augmented reality, what will it mean to developers like ourselves at Draw & Code? Is it likely to be the tipping point for AR (augmented reality) becoming a truly mainstream medium? Or has that already happened without the wider media noticing?
The speed at which Pokemon Go has become a phenomenon may be a shock, but the idea that AR can be wildly successful is not a great surprise to those in the industry. The treasure hunt style of gameplay was established with Pokemon Go developers Niantic’s own Ingress, while Snapchat has quietly gone about introducing AR into the hands of hundreds of millions of users.
Snapchat’s filters represent the real breakthrough moment for the industry; it’s no accident that Snapchat has ploughed millions into augmented acquisitions. More than 220 million filters were used during the Super Bowl with Gatorade’s sponsored filter clocking over 160 million impressions alone. That’s more people engaging with the brand than saw the game itself in the US. Let that sink in for a minute.
Meanwhile the smart investors and technology giants have long been putting money into AR hardware and platforms; surely Pokemon Go will be the springboard to much needed large investments on the content side too? Our own AR toy and game hybrid SwapBots has recently received support from the Government’s UK Games Fund; the confidence in the market is already building.
The often lurid headlines being generated by Pokemon Go clearly represents a crucial moment for developers of immersive games, but keep in mind that this is only the beginning for AR. The next generation of smartphones and tablets will boast 3D scanners that enable the device to understand its environment in unprecedented ways, so no more Pokemon floating around in mid air – they will climb up table legs and sit on your knee.
Augmented reality has been held back by its image as a superfluous technology that is only used as an afterthought on mobile phones and by a general lack of imagination in the content that is out there. The former is actually a plus point – it means there is no hardware outlay needed to start using it – while the latter is well and truly being addressed.
The massive plus point for AR is how natural it is to use. By its nature VR (virtual reality) will always have a degree of friction to its use. The act of putting on a headset and shutting yourself off from the world around you is supremely engaging, but it’s asking a lot of people to cut their senses off from their environment. And that’s before we mention the cost of the headsets at the high end of the VR market.
Maybe the ideal combination will be the likes of the gaming and entertainment-focused CastAR headset or the much vaunted Meta II. Both offer a compelling augmented experience while leaving your hands free to interact with the world in front of you.
Either way augmented reality has gone from a slow crawl towards the mainstream to the most talked about form of gaming and social media, generating lurid headlines and staggering statistics. With SwapBots currently in development, it looks like we’ve picked a great time to produce an AR game!