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Augmented Reality: The Future Of Gaming

During the history of video games, rarely has a year gone by without someone in the industry making huge strides.  In recent years developers invited the gamer to become part of the virtual world with games like Fight Night 4, it was just a matter of time before developers found a way to bring the virtual world into our reality.

Augmented reality or AR when used with a mobile device or a computer uses a mixture of real world views and virtual computer-generated imagery to make interaction with the world around the user possible.  This past summer the Savannah college of art and design in Atlanta debuted their nVidia compatible game ARhrrrr, a FPS that uses a table top map and skittles to take out hoards of zombies and people got excited.

Nintendo also announced a DSi compatible game called GhostWire set to release in late 2010.  Game designers, Adifferentgame,  created the game that allows the user to view their home as the game’s setting and track ghosts to help them accordingly. The game  won 1st prize in Nokia’s N-Gage Mobile Games Innovation Challenge 2008, and was also nominated in two categories for the International Mobile Gaming Awards 2009.   Adifferentgame’s recent collaboration with Majesco leads me to believe that we can get ready for more AR games to come from a variety of developers.

The use of AR is already making waves within the marketing world where applications are being developed to engage consumers on a personal level.  Most recently New Orleans’s based company Zehnder developed an AR app for Voodoo Festival concert goers.  They made it possible for attendees to get band information such as schedules and locations in addition to hot spots for food, drinks, and, more.  I got in contact with Dave Maher, Director of Digital Communications at Zehnder and asked some questions about AR and its future capabilities.

Voodoo music festival app

In addition to new video games based on augmented reality, where else could you envision using this equipment?

Augmented Reality has numerous potential uses from location-based mobile applications to Web cam marker-based executions. These could be anything – entertainment, shopping, educational, etc. The real power of AR comes when marketing and development communities find practical uses. Over the next year, expect to see the technology improve as well as the strategic executions. The number of AR users is only going to grow as more practical uses are created and the hardware becomes available.

With the ready availability of mobile devices and video games, how long would you predict until augmented reality goes mainstream?

AR becomes more available and mainstream every day. A major motion picture, for example, is about to begin marketing the film by placing an AR marker in the New York Times. Best Buy has used marker-based AR in weekly circulars to promote laptop sales. Most recently, Esquire published an entire issue devoted to AR. And that’s just the beginning. Consumers have become very adept at using the technology needed for AR.

But the audience must have the right hardware, and that can pose a major obstacle. Location-based AR, for example, requires a smart phone with GPS and a built-in compass. Marker-based AR needs a Web cam or smart phone running a special app. The technology is in its infancy, but AR is developing quickly. And considering the NFL and CNN, among others, use AR regularly, the fact is AR already is mainstream. As iPhone users trade in their 3G phones for 3GS models in the coming months, you’ll see a huge increase in the number of people using location-based AR.

With endless possibilities and locations for backdrops, how long does it take to create each app?

The scope of work always determines the time frame, but most projects can be developed in 30-90 days.

Would it be financially possible for smaller companies to take advantage of these apps in the future for regular marketing purposes?

Absolutely. AR projects can be scaled to accommodate all budgets. The most important factor when choosing an AR developer is making sure you get a strategic and practical execution. And here’s a tip: Make sure developers can show you a functioning example of their work. Don’t settle for an edited video.

For a company with an already impressive start, can you tell me if Zehnder has anything new in the works?

We have several projects in development that use location-based AR, including digital city guides and customized real estate experiences. We also have an innovative marker-based AR project that we’ll unveil at the South by Southwest event next year. This project will bring AR to a new level with social media opportunities.

So all in all, be prepared to have games judged in a whole new light in the years to come and our day to day living a little more virtually interactive.  Not only will we read reviews based on graphics and gameplay but also the added dimension of games and their real world interactions. It’s looking like it’s not a matter of if, but when.  The developers out there are busy with everything from phone apps to full blown games, and we the consumer are ready for them.

Big Thanks to Dave and Jeff over at the Zehnder team!

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