The State & Future of AR Games: Rose-Colored Glasses
In this 2019 GDC talk, Niantic CEO John Hanke takes a deep look at AR today and helps you imagine possible AR games and experiences that can deliver persistent shared experiences in the real world.
His big tip? AR GLASSES
I am a big fan of a quote by Alan Kay, which is the best way to predict the future is to invent it, or to build it.
I know some people know us as the company that made Pokémon Go with a company that spun out of Google, which is cool. That's what we are. But we're our own thing too.
When we started we wanted to take 3d technology, new digital satellite imaging technology, and broadband and make a map of the world, unlike any map that have been made before, a map of unprecedent level of detail, built on imagery for the entire planet (google earth), so we started with that. We actually were acquired by Google along the way and with help from a bunch of other talented people inside of Google we were able ultimately to realize that vision to build a map and put the whole world on your desktop initially, and then later, we brought it to the palm of your hand.
So after we built the map, people started doing all kinds of crazy things with maps on thousands of mashup sites. St we started thinking, well, what can you do with this geographic substrate of the world?
So we started Niantic wanting to explore what happens with maps and location wearable technology … By the time we spun out of Google, Pokémon Go was in development.
During development we identified 3 key design themes
The key thing that we settled on was the idea that in every neighborhood, there's probably a story that's interesting. There's a mystery that can be built there, everywhere in the world.
Being computer people and spending a lot of time at our desks we realized that everybody needs a little nudge sometimes to go outside and get their 10,000 steps in or get their daily workout in. Good. If you get tired of sitting inside, we've created a nice space for you out there.
And we heard back from some of the early users of our games from Ingress that people who didn't consider themselves athletes really appreciated that gamified kind of nudge to exercise.
This really came from feedback, not from our own insight, but from what people told us when they were using our products. They love the opportunity to meet new people and have something to do together with friends, or family, so we adopted that.
We measured the total number of places that have been observed, as you know, special unique places in neighborhoods where people live, that people have photographed and named and described and added into this global game board which now numbers in the millions, so it's growing rapidly worldwide.
So this idea of stitching together a global game board, a place that we can play out all the interesting nooks and crannies in the world is going pretty well.
In terms of social we measure it in terms of the formal connections that people form in the game. We added the friend feature and Pokémon Go last year so you can identify your friends you can exchange gifts with those friends, you get bonuses for playing together and raids. So now there are over 190 million connections.
And we also measured in terms of the events that we hold. Has anybody been to a go fest event or a Pokémon Go community day? These events look a little bit like music festival if you've been to like Outside Lands or Lollapalooza or something like that, maybe combined with like a healthy dose of Comic Con, with a little bit of five K, if you can, like, combine all those ideas. Last year, we had 3 million people in total come to these events. We've had events with over 100,000 people. So this idea that games can be part of that festival/outdoor world is very much true.
By having these big festival style events, families learn about the history of the town in this really fun interactive way. We’re overlaying gameplay onto an existing kind of civic festival, dramatically increasing their attendance and drawing in an audience that wouldn't otherwise attend.
So we want to more events like this. And that means opening up our platform, so that many people can build hopefully really fun experiences on top of it.
BROAD INCLUSION/APPEAL IS POSSIBLE
Whenever I first started investigating the idea of us doing a game, people talked about casual games, and mid core games and casual games had a certain look and feel they attracted a certain audience, but mid core games were for real gamers, and they had a completely separate dynamic to them. We didn't want to put ourselves into a single category. We wanted to build something that was broadly appealing, but you know, we had ambitions around retention. We wanted it to be financially successful, so this was a risky shot for us.
And what I'm reporting back to you is that it is possible. I'm going to call them accessible games, that appeal to males, females, people from all walks of life, multiple demographics. Based on third party research polls we see more than 40% of the players are women. We see underrepresented minorities in excess of 30%, so gamers are not a subset of the world, but look like everybody else.
A. Short AR sessions
We know that people really don't like to hold up their phones for a long period of time. We think the right session length for holding up your phone is not more than two to three minutes, for example. So if you think about AR you want to think about it as a type of play that happens within a broader game, where a lot of the gameplay is not happening in AR mode.
B. Social sensitivity
You also need to be aware that there’s social stigma so when you hold up your phone and wave it around, it looks like you might be taking a picture of everybody who's standing around you. This is a big drawback to AR in certain situations and it's something that really needs to be designed around.
By that I mean two things:
So short sessions and really thoughtful design are important, we think the right approach here is to design things for AR that can't be done outside of AR. So. ensure that it’s obvious why you're there: you're have an experience that you can really only realize through AR.
The other thing that I want to sort of flag here is you hear a lot of hype in the industry, about augmented reality but there are inherent limitations to AR and phones. I, for one, don't believe that AR is going to take over the phone and everybody's just going to walk around in AR mode all the time. But I do believe there's huge potential, and I believe that potential is going to come in future devices like augmented glasses.
So what's the killer feature for a real world AR game?
You know, some people ask us a lot and I don't think it's the AR, I think AR is nice embellishment on top. It's the icing on the cake.
The things that we think are really the killer features are our core principles. That's why we adopted them: exploration and exercise and real-world social interactions.
MAPS FOR MACHINES
We made Google Earth and Google Maps for all of you, for people. It's designed to be a fun, friendly, accessible UI for human beings, so that we can never be lost again. We can navigate wherever we want in the world. The AR maps that we're building, are built for machines, so it's a very different kind of map in some ways. It's in the service of helping us be better human beings and those computers, our cell phones today, those computers, maybe glasses in the future. And by the way, they may be robots beyond that, because robots that want to move around in the world need that very same kind of precise localisation. So what the map does by accumulating data is to allow the computer to know xy latitude and longitude exactly where it is in the world down to an order of centimetres.
What does detailed AR look like? So you start with lots of images, many different ways those images might come into a system. But from that, you're going to derive a very, very detailed three-dimensional understanding of space. (shares recent research and development effots)
At this scale, the world is nuts. Stuff changes all the time. It's incredibly dynamic. So this is probably a map that never gets finished. Some things actually change second by second. So the idea of mapping them in advance is a non sequitur. People walking down the street. cars driving down the street, you can't create a map of that. So that's something that you actually have to understand in real time, if you want to augment the world in a way that's realistic.
So in our view, we think this kind of thing can really only be built in a cooperative way by people that are using a system so a collaborative ongoing effort to constantly map and remap the world. An evolution from photos to points to putting holograms into the world.
AR GLASSES = FUTURE PLATFORM SHIFT
But ultimately, the question that's interesting is, is it something that is meaningful with a capital M? Like is it's something that's going to affect our lives in a significant way and many people's lives in a significant way?
What is happening on handsets today is a warm up, that's the pregame. What's gonna happen with glasses in the future is the real deal, but I think it's one of those platform shifts. You see it once every 10 or 20 years. We saw PCs, we saw the cloud, we saw mobile, I think AR is one of those shifts, so it's something that I think is worth our time to understand. It's worth time and money to invest early in.
Hanke, John. 2019. THE STATE & FUTURE OF AR GAMES: ROSE-COLORED GLASSES. In GDC Vault. U.S.: YouTube.
The USW Audience of the Future research team is compiling a summary collection of recent research in the field of immersive, and enhanced reality media