Forget Virtual Reality: Can Augmented Reality Gaming Succeed?

As far as gaming goes, one of the newest frontiers is augmented and virtual reality. Although headsets like the Oculus Rift and Sony’s Morpheus lead the way in developing innovative gaming technologies, neither is consumer ready at this point – particularly with Oculus’ recent acquisition by Facebook. Naturally, then, game developers have looked to technologies that are already readily adopted by consumers, and concluded that cellphones provide the next best platform to develop innovative games.

Thus was born Augmented Reality gaming, or the act of creating games out of layers of visual data superimposed onto images of the real world on mobile devices. One of these games was called Ingress, and was developed in part by Google. The premise was straightforward: travel to world monuments, and let the app superimpose its storyline onto the real world, and the user would live in a secret plotline unbeknownst to those around them. Its goal was to create an exclusive community of tech-savvy gamers who would interact via their phones around the world. But the game fell flat on multiple levels: the game has taken several years to even emerge onto all mobile operating systems, and three years after its initial launch only recently came out of beta. But even more than that, the plot of the game is confusing to outsiders: “Confused? You’re not alone. The point is to create a network for your faction, but the whole thing is elaborate and it does take some getting used to.” 

Not only is the point of entry challenging, but the premise of taking working people out of their way on a daily basis to travel to sometimes-inconvenient locations to pick up a piece of virtual currency places excessive demands on users, many of whom eventually dropped the game. Ultimately, Augmented Reality is a promising marketing technique – overlaying images in magazines can direct users to a point of purchase – but to expect that users are going to collect digitally-based currency that’s part of a relatively confusing scheme is a bridge too far.