Jan 012012

Originally published Oct 2011 in Wired Magazine ‘Change Accelerators‘ by Gary Hayes 4 of 5

Image by Gary Hayes

When planning your next holiday to London with the fam, don’t forget to sync up your iGlasses and load up the London experience packs. On arrival, slip on your augmented reality sunglasses and take a look around: Roman-era London appears before your eyes. Slaves and gladiators walk through the streets and chariots rush past. You can add your own comments leaving virtual “We Were Here” graffiti for all time. The experience is part documentary, part user-generated narrative, and entirely pervasive. In other words, augmented reality meets living history.

In our everyday lives, we engage with stories in many ways, whether it’s eye-to-eye contact with a stranger that sparks an instant connection or a well-crafted movie or TV show. But what if we started experiencing those stories in the outernet’s layers?

While online networks are evolving traditional entertainment, such as TV and web series, we are also witnessing the rise of a new form of media called “augmented reality storytelling.” I’ve dubbed this new form of diversion ’ntertainment, as a shorthand for immersive augmented reality entertainment.

At its broadest level, augmented reality is about enhancing the physical world through digital elements, such as images, sound, and information. Now technology is enabling us to further situate and layer our digital stories in places where other narratives can’t reach. Right now, we see this happening when someone holds up a camera on an iPhone or tablet and shares objects or stories from the real world.

The opening Roman London example is based on an existing service called Londinium, which is a collaboration between the History Channel and the Museum of London using augmented reality video layered over real-world streets to re-create an alternate history. Coincidentally, London is also used as a site in the globe-spanning Ghost Tours 2.0. Haunted London encourages visitors to explore the city’s eerie side using locative AR (augmented reality). Likewise, another situated project is Witness, which draws participants into the dramatic and seedy underbelly of criminal Berlin. In this case, players are the hero: They watch graphic video scenes at different city locations and are then sent detective challenges to uncover the truth. But here’s the twist: The story might just bite you back! Augmented reality games and stories can even get physical, like the recent example of Chelsea FC playing the world’s largest Space Invaders game in a stadium using projection AR.

Gaming is leading the way. New consoles, like Vita, allow users to literally take game characters orreality fighters into the streets. Other gaming advances like AR games on Nintendo’s 3DS start to recognize place markers placed around a player’s city, transforming screen-based MMORPG(massively multiplayer online role-playing games) into an LMMOG (location-based massively multiplayer online games).

Augmented reality storytelling is starting to appear across our smart GPS mobile devices. Several marketing campaigns are taking the initiative by spearheading real-time AR challenges, such as Vodafone’s Buffer Monsters, which challenged German smartphone users to download a mobile app to capture virtual creatures and win a lifetime plan. This is only one example, other AR advergames encourage users to competitively run around cities on scavenger hunts for real-world prizes, such as the Droid Bionic AR Game. Similarly, this October, Gundam, the Japanese anime giant, release an iPhone/iPad app called Gundam Area Wars. The game uses the devices’ camera and gyroscopic sensors to show life-size 3D models situated in the player’s real-world landscape.

Given these above examples, I return to my earlier travel scenario and I wonder how commonplace it will become for people arriving in a new location to start experiencing it through augmented reality storytelling and gameplay? The traditional guidebook has already morphed into digital form. The Lonely Planet is already a downloadable app. Is it a big jump to imagine AR and location-based storytelling won’t soon allow travelers to engage history on a whole new level? One might even argue a deeper and more meaningful one than just the 2D sightseeing experience of looking at crumbling ruins. So many guidebooks have been written on the principle of making history come to life—AR actually makes it possible.

One could even take this one step further and question, why do we need to travel at all when we have our own personal Holodecks at our fingertips? Fast Company recently reported on Tour Wrist, a virtual tour that lets iPad users move around a global location with unlimited zoom and freedom. “Travelers” are virtually transported to that place and able to immerse themselves in it becoming the hero in a remotely situated, digital storyworld.

Finally, in the near future, we might all have the capability to create duplicates of our surroundings in 3D for others. This Microsoft R&D initiative to map the world uses the fastest selling piece of tech on the planet, the Xbox Kinect. This would allow everyday people to create unlimited user-generated 3D AR—foreseeable as easily as snapping a digital picture. In addition to this, there is a saturation of location-stamped social stories inside services, such as Google Earth, TagWhat, HistoryPin, Facebook Places, CheckIn+, Foursquare, and Gowalla, among others. What will result from all these stories becoming interconnected and navigable using AR devices?

From that point on, we will be co-creating an augmented entertainment eternity. Together. Will you be a part of it?

Mar 092011

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.”


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