I was interviewed by Andrew Collins in December’s Hyper Magazine about Social and Augmented Reality gaming. Hyper magazine is a great game monthly and a regular buy for me with its pretty solid reviews and impartial editorial for the game world as well as some forward looking features. The gaming industry is close to a precipice as games spill out into the real world (as I have blogged about many times before!) so I thought I would publish the article (and my interview on which much of the article is based) this week as the race for the augmented reality, locative game space trophy truly begins and the contestants line up on the starting grid…

  1. Sony with it’s NGP virtual treasure hunts
  2. Nintendo’s 3DS games in the real world AR launch
  3. a multitude of Android AR game apps in development/release and in case you missed it
  4. about to be released the iPad 2 with it’s dual camera support for Augmented Reality locative games and all the iPhone AR apps that will flood across
  5. and of course

Mid to late 2011 is going to be significant – a fun, social, locative augmented reality game nirvana. Perhaps the real battle though is going to be between locked down, TV room, single player console gaming vs open, social, locative casual AR gaming? Interview after the cover…



Traditional game developers are extending the gaming experience beyond what appears on the retail disc and into the social realm, rewarding players for exploring media outside of the console and the PC.

Andrew Collins takes a look at what’s on offer

Casual social networking games have exploded in popularity recently, with a bunch of casual game developers popping out of the woodwork producing low-tech but addictive games. Now traditional game developers and publishers have joined the party, seeking to adapt the trend to their own needs, and their own games.

This bleed of PC and console games out into social networking services has immense potential. There’s a whole world of cool stuff going on right now, and even greater stuff just around the corner – that has the potential to change the way we game completely.

You probably already know the most basic form of this blend of traditional and social gaming: the automatic status update. Many games now will notify your Facebook or Twitter contacts when you accomplish a goal in-game.

It’s unfortunate that this is the most recognisable example of this trend; at best, it’s annoying, and at worst, it’s annoying as hell. Do you really care that your flatmate’s cousin’s boyfriend just unlocked an achievement in FIFA 11? How do you feel when he unlocks 10 in the space of half an hour, flooding your social networking news feed?

Fortunately, developers have realised this and have moved on to integrating gaming and social networking in more interesting ways that suit us all.


Before we look at these developments, it’s worth looking at why the games industry is embracing social networking.

As we found out in issue 204, the market for casual social networking games is booming, generating ridiculous amounts of revenue for those lucky or smart enough to have a finger in this lucrative social pie.

But the learned readers of Hyper are not the only ones who have cottoned on to this fact. Traditional games developers and publishers have seen the sheer number of people drawn into this social gaming trend, and have realised that it could work for them – not as a direct source of revenue, but rather as a form of marketing.

Put simply, every time you tell your 600 Facebook friends what game you’re playing, you’re giving the publisher 600 free ads for their game, and giving the game your own personal stamp of approval. Congratulations! You are advertising space.

Gary Hayes is an expert on the relationship between games and social networking. He has a terribly long bio – far too long to reproduce in full here – with experience in TV, music, virtual worlds, game production, lecturing, and many, many other things. He’s most succinctly described as a `transmedia guru’ – someone who dwells in the overlap of different mediums.

According to Hayes, this venture of traditional gaming into social networking isn’t a short lived gimmick that just a few companies are toying with – it’s now a necessity for developers.

“From an economic point of view, given the massive rise of social games over the last couple of years, and the decline in console games generally (in June of this year there was around a 10% drop in total game industry sales, down to about $6.7 billion), traditional games developers – EA and Ubisoft and so on – are looking at social gaming as really a pretty important part of the mix that they need to be involved in,” Hayes says.

“It’s part of their survival,” he says. “There’s a quote from Alex St. John [DirectX creator and social gaming producer] who says that if a game doesn’t have a social element, it’s going to be dead before it starts out, in the future.”


So, if game companies need to include these social elements, but we hate spamming our mates with annoying status updates, what else can these companies do? Plenty. Firstly, there’s what Hayes calls the ‘freemium’ model, in which games companies create low-tech Facebook games or standalone Flash games that introduce players to the story, gameplay and/or characters of the full retail game in question.

For the PS3 and Xbox 360 title Dante’s Inferno, EA commissioned social game developer LOLapps to create a Facebook application to promote the game. The resultant app includes combat, an inventory system, Dante-related lore, and other staples of traditional RPGs.

These demos are a step up from the spam of automatic status updates, in terms of value to gamers. Although they are rather primitive, they have potential to offer players some pretty engaging gameplay. Some of these low-tech games go a step further, and offer players some kind of advantage in the final retail game, like extra items or credits.

Crackdown 2, for example, rewards gamers that do well in a companion Facebook app with an extra weapon for use in the full game. In this age of paid horse armour DLC, a free weapon is nothing to thumb your nose at.

Some take a different tack, rewarding players for actively inviting and encouraging their friends to come into the game in question and play. Rewards include credits for use at an in-game store, special items, or free subscription time. Often, such rewards (particularly free subscription time) are almost like a cash payout. It’s a tactic most popular in MMOs; both Aion and World of Warcraft have invite-a-friend type programs.

Early results indicate that some of these approaches can work for publishers, in terms of promoting awareness and increasing game sales. According to a LOLapps survey of those that played the Dante’s Inferno Facebook app, 62% of players said they were going to buy the full retail game, while 52% of players said they found out about the console title through the Facebook game.

So, skipping over the maths, that means a clear majority of those that played the Facebook game planned on buying the console game. More importantly, at least 10% of those that did plan on buying the game had found out about it via Facebook.

“It’s a powerful marketing tool for companies, particularly when you’ve now got 500 million on Facebook,” Hayes says. “It’s a big territory to push your game ideas into.”


So far, all the methods we’ve discussed have been attempts at incentivising passive marketing – giving rewards to gamers who inadvertently inform their friends, through Facebook or another social network, that they’re playing a particular game.

Some developers take a different approach, giving players tools to share their experiences of the full game in the form of machinima (movies created with gameplay footage). These titles ship with the ability to upload video straight to YouTube, without the need for any external editing tools or miscellaneous video tomfoolery.

The player just fiddles around in the game’s theatre mode and, when finished, hits the upload button. Their broadband connection then pushes their creation to the internet, where many eager eyeballs await.

According to Machinima.com – a hub of machinima and gameplay footage – videos of Modern Warfare 2 generated more than 125 million views in the first 100 days of the game’s release. And as of June, the company had more than 1.5 billion views on YouTube across all its videos.

This sort of creative outlet offers true value to garners, far beyond what automatic status updates or companion Facebook games can deliver. As Hayes says, the success of Machinima.com shows that

“there’s a real need for fans to share their social gaming experiences with people possibly not on those platforms.”

And again, there are marketing benefits. You only have to look at how many millions of views these videos receive to understand why. Getting a game in front of that many eyeballs – for free, no less – is a marketer’s dream.

“The social video component of gameplay – machinima – is, to me, lifeblood marketing. It’s the equivalent of the $3 million trailers for the big movies,” Hayes says.

So, overall, there are lots of gains for the gamer and the publisher. As such, Hayes believes that “it’s really important for game developers to have the machinima components built in.”


Believe it or not, the ultimate social experience occurs in the real world. And reality is seen by some as the next big thing for social gaming.

These multiplayer `geosocial or ‘augmented reality’ games are played out and about in the real world, with your GPS-enabled mobile phone or tablet computer keeping track of your location, various game variables, and your progress.

Rudimentary examples include Foursquare and Gowalla – very basic mobile phone games that reward players with virtual points for ‘checking in’ to nominated locations around the world.

Other augmented reality games cover a bunch of genres, including scavenger hunts, murder mysteries and even shooters. Most are rather simple, but there are more complex ones on the way, like SCVNGR, a geosocial gaming platform.

SCVNGR not only tracks players’ locations, but also issues specific challenges at particular places, and rewards players for completing them. SCVNGR stands apart from other geosocial games in that businesses can pay a monthly fee to create their own challenges for the game, with their own required tasks, and potentially, real-world rewards.

So, you might go to your local pizzeria, type “give this gentlemanly bird a cheese pizza” into your phone, and be rewarded with a delicious cheese pizza.

In order to promote the game, the company behind SCVNGR ran a series of ‘Diamond Dashes‘ – scavenger hunts each with the reward of a USD$15,000 diamond ring. The company has a surprisingly large client base at the moment, with more than 1000 companies creating challenges. ”

[SCVNGR] is obviously part marketing but also part future of games themselves, as they move out of the living room and into real space,” Hayes says.

Hayes himself is involved in developing a team-based augmented reality game, set to be released somewhere around mid to late 2011.

“It’s almost like playing a console game but in a real live situation. You’re given tasks to do and you have to travel around and fulfil those tasks.” These tasks include picking up virtual ‘packages’ and ‘delivering’ them to other locations.

Hayes can’t reveal the game’s name at this stage, but does say that it ties into a TV show from a UK broadcaster, and is part promotion for that show, as well as being a game in its own right.

And there will be a lot more games like this. According to Hayes, there’s a lot of competition in this social space, and a lot of people developing for it.


The future holds more hybrid social games – ones that blend the casual experience of a social networking game with the more complex gameplay of a PC/console title.

“So, it has a casual layer and a much more deeper, engaging, richer, production value console layer, and the two of them are inextricably linked,” Hayes says. “That’s where the real value will be seen.”

Social gaming will continue to grow. And in the world of the console and the PC, single-player and “minimally rnultiplayer” 2-4 player games will slowly disappear. As such, consoles will primarily be used as online gaming platforms.

Thankfully, game companies are much more savvy when it comes to social media than, say, those people working in TV and other traditional media. Hopefully that translates into some quality social gaming developments. And less status spam. Please, kind developers and publishers, no more gosh darned status spam.


To finish I have shown many iPhad and Android AR and locative apps and demos and some in dev so here are two tasters of Sony’s NGP (conference developer demo) and Nintendo’s 3DS systems respectively. Enjoy

GDC: NGP Augmented Reality demo
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