Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Alternate Reality Interface

A friend was asking me about Trent Reznor's Year Zero on Saturday, and whether I knew of any other big ARG successes and how they worked. Other examples were Audi's 'The Art of the Heist', the Nokia Game (which ran for 6 years), and perhaps the most famous after Year Zero, The Beast. The Nokia Game was the first ARG to use an extremely diverse range of communication channels, with The Beast and Year Zero both pushing those even further. So what next I wondered? What other interfaces could be used for an ARG?

You may not remember the following video, it first appeared doing the rounds in July 2007. It's a promo released by HP to show off their Mscape geolocation platform, which was developed by their labs in Bristol, UK. The video shows “Roku’s Reward” - HP's idea of how game development could utilise the platform. Admittedly you need to over look the terrible stereotypes of who gamers are, but their vision was certainly ground breaking for the time.

The most interesting thing isn't necessarily the video itself or the vision that HP had. HP were in many ways right on the ball. The most interesting thing was the online reaction to the video. Virtually everyone agreed that the concept was fantastic, and that the platform had a lot of potential. However, they also all agreed that HP's prediction was crazy that the technology for this type of game play would be available on hand-held mobile devices within two years. Of course we can now all agree that this technology was very much only two years away (demonstrated recently by the Mobilizy landscape system and Dutch Bank ING's ATM finder).

So why haven't we seen more games/apps appearing that utilise the Mscape platform (or similar). Why has no one looked to use this type of platform for an ARG style marketing campaign? There are a huge amount of GPS enabled hand-held devices now on the market, and for those that aren't surely there is a cell-tower based alternative?

There is a limitation with the platform in that it needs to be based on a specific real-world location, or ‘anchored’ in Mscape’s terminology, but there are many large cities around the world that could sustain a user base within their population that would make it commercially viable. In fact if you think about it there are many cities that would have a transient tourist population that could benefit from some sort of GPS-based interactive system like this; museums, galleries, theme parks etc.

In my opinion, this is where we will see the next 'big thing'. The newest Nintendo DS is already equipped with a camera; a GPS unit could easily be added as a component or built-in to the next gen. The Sony PSP is in the same boat (with a camera and GPS unit already available). So who's going to do it? I wager it'll be Japanese and it will sit on one of these platforms, with customised versions for a dozen or so of the largest cities in the world (mostly US with Toyko, London, Paris and Berlin).


Will Knott said...

No. Nokia has the GSP maps, and the tech. I can see them trying another N-Gage, or tying with another company (imagine Nokia and Nintendo (DS) together. That would be an iPhone challenger)

Christian Hughes said...

Hey Will, I have used the maps functionality on Nokia but considering their recent slump and the lack of handsets with GPS functionality - I don't see them as the major force to drive this type of platform. The DS and PSP are both suited to it perfectly (imho) as they are gaming systems and already have penetration in the audience/demographic that would be most likely to jump on board.