The term Augmented Reality was introduced in 1990 by Tom Caudell, a researcher at Boeing who used this word to describe a digital display which projects computer-generated content onto a physical environment. Today, ARKit (and soon also ARCore technology) seamlessly incorporates virtual content into an existing environment in real time. While Pokemon GO is considered a breakthrough in Augmented Reality (the game has been downloaded over 750 million times and the revenue it has generated is estimated to be more than $1.2 billion), it was Apple’s ARKit which brought this technology to a whole new level. By embedding digital information such as audio, video, and data into the real-world environment in real time, AR creates a medium of its own, a completely new content platform that is versatile, comprehensible and relatively affordable. Its market growth is expected to reach $61.39 billion by 2023. In 2016, it was valued at $2.39 billion, so it is expected to grow at a CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) of 55.71% during the forecast period (Markets and Markets).
Due to an increasing number of ARKit users as well as the long-awaited launch of Android’s ARCore, a breakthrough is expected in 2018, not only in the number of AR applications for mobile devices but also in creating more high-quality content that will convince the undecided.
As Apple’s Tim Cook said, Apple is “high on AR in the long run… [and Apple] will continue to invest a lot in this…[because] AR can be huge”. It is clear that their long-term commitment to AR technology will result not only in better hardware but also in taking advantage of Apple’s whole end-to-end ecosystem to further expand AR’s potential. Competition between the major players should speed up the process of expanding this technology and perhaps finally entering the mainstream. It will obviously benefit the users, who may expect more diverse and higher-quality AR content. Augmented Reality is widely expected to target mostly mobile devices with some reports suggesting that mobile AR could become the primary driver of a $108 billion VR/AR market by 2021 (TechCrunch). This view is also shared by Mark Zuckerberg: “The phone is probably going to be the mainstream consumer platform [where] a lot of these AR features become mainstream, rather than a glasses form factor that people will wear on their face.”
The unique characteristics of Augmented Reality bring a whole array of new possibilities also to mobile gaming. In fact, AR is opening an entirely new chapter for the mobile games industry. According to Infoholic Research (published by Reuters), the AR gaming market is expected to reach $284.93 billion by 2023, growing at a CAGR of 152.7% during the forecast period 2017–2023. AR technology appears well suited for mobile gaming because instead of creating a totally new environment, it also takes advantage of the existing one, creating a playing field with integrated gameplay (graphics, data, visual effects and sound). The interaction between the real and virtual environments provides countless opportunities to surprise the gamer with totally new and awesome effects. AR technology augments the real world and therefore adds unique elements to a game, creating a captivating experience. That is obviously still a promise rather than reality as the AR games released so far haven’t really lived up to their potential. Many existing AR games have been converted into AR from standard mobile games and the effect is far from what it should be. We need to make AR experiences interact with the real world in a much more authentic, accurate and exciting way. It’s a big challenge for AR developers to meet expectations. Elements such as gameplay mechanics and the user interface still pose quite a challenge, but these issues will be overcome very soon. AR developers must also find new solutions to some major issues such as the lack of user comfort while holding their smartphones in a particular position, significant battery consumption, or quick overheating.
There is a specific set of AR characteristics (considering the currently available hardware) which needs to be taken into account when designing an AR game. For example,
the length of one gaming session should not be too long as the slight discomfort of holding an iPad can impact the player’s performance and engagement level.
Will AR capture the imagination of mobile gamers?
Similarly to VR, we need to start creating high-quality content which will help AR enhance our real-world environment even better. It is crucial to combine standard AR features with other elements. This will not only enrich gameplay, but above all create a fresh, captivating experience that will make gamers go: wow! It needs to capture the player’s imagination just like VR while making the real environment an active and harmonious element of the experience. Another significant factor is the level of control that a player has, namely the ability to control the screen. The user can zoom in and out instantaneously and navigate through spaces the same way they use a smartphone camera. This alone adds an important element to the game as the player is given a chance to examine small visual details more closely. It makes interaction with the game more nuanced and helps the experience expand beyond the screen.
However, enhanced gaming features are not enough to convince the unimpressed. AR games will also have to improve their quality when it comes to overall storytelling, user experience, navigation, and additional features such as high-quality sound effects, music, and narration.
At Immersion, we have taken these challenges very seriously. One of our three upcoming AR games, “Ancients AR”, addresses some of the issues I have outlined. The game combines unique AR capabilities with stunning art and graphics, exciting gameplay, and a compelling storyline. It is also one of the first real-time strategy games developed using ARKit.
Ancients AR has been created in collaboration with renowned artist, painter and illustrator Jakub Różalski. Jakub is known for developing graphic content for World 1920+, which led to the creation of the board game Scythe (one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns which raised $2 million) and a computer game under the same title. He has also created concept art for Hollywood productions such as Kong.
The player commands one of three warring kingdoms located in a vast, murky ocean full of small rocky islands. The goal is to tactically manage a fleet through a number of sea battles and lead the mission to victory. Players can also use the power of the Ancients to cast spells on their opponent’s army. The whole mission consists of 15 different boards which should provide around 2 hours of incredibly exciting play. We aimed to make this game strategically demanding by giving the player a variety of tactical choices and available options. The mighty Ancients can be further developed by the player (by adding new powers), which will require a solid tactical approach: the Ancients can be summoned only when the player earns this option by performing well on the battlefield. It takes a lot of energy, so tactics have to be well planned.
One of the most thrilling features of this game are the Ancients’ powers and capabilities such as throwing thunders or fireballs, freezing the enemy’s ship, or using a fire-spitting flying dragon! Thanks to the stunning and realistic visual effects, the game experience expands beyond the edges of the screen. All these elements, combined with exhilarating music, war sound effects, beautiful graphics and vivid colours, provide a spectacular experience. The AR effect incorporates this fantasy, picturesque world in the user’s own environment and evokes true magic!
AR games have another great feature which is incredibly useful – the shareability of content. Users can stream their activities in AR or record videos while playing the game. AR games also provide new opportunities for their promotion, giving their marketing teams new tools when it comes to the production of ads, trailers, and other visual content.
Is Augmented Reality the future of gaming?
We shouldn’t expect mobile gamers to immediately fall in love with AR games, but instead we must ensure that AR provides more high-quality content, as well as engaging, memorable gaming experiences. In today’s super competitive gaming sector, the battle for user attention is as fierce as ever. We, the AR developers, must design products that will keep pushing the technology forward and breaking boundaries in order to offer our users a unique and holistic experience which can challenge the standard approaches by setting new benchmarks in mobile gaming.
Naturally, the new and impatiently awaited, versatile and comfortable AR glasses will make it much easier to enable a breakthrough for AR games. Until then, let’s make the most of ARKit and ARCore by creating diverse, high-quality content. Unlike Virtual Reality games, their AR equivalents are easily available and much cheaper. The new version of Pokemon GO and the Harry Potter AR app might become global bestsellers, giving the AR technology a much-needed boost. It is vital that smaller game developers seize the opportunity by also offering beautiful, engaging AR experiences.