Location based games – mobile gamification on your way up

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Dear readership, the following article is a guest article by Markus Persson -ehm- I mean Thorsten Zimprich. Thorsten is a young and skilled game designer, freelance editor and master of “DSA”, the german counterpart of “D&D”. Three good reasons (of course this role-playing thing is the most important) to feature his interesting article about Location Based Games. Have fun!


 

The future of gaming is mobile! Thus players have to get out of their comfortable chairs and couches. This movement started some years ago. Games companies began to mobilize everbody. Sony moved its players and Microsoft kinected everybody to virtual worlds, as Nintendo did as Wii know. First companies have already sounded the bell for the next lap of this race – the fusion of virtual reality and your current position in real world, e.g. via GPS data on smartphones. This article wants to introduce some of the horses which joined this race and to guess their course.

Location based games are a wide field. Due to that fact, you can get tangled up very easily. Let’s get a quick step-by-step overview trying to avoid any buzzwords.

We try to think as game designers. The basic question for each of them is: “What are my options?”

Without any doubt every mobile phone is able to communicate; therefore low-tech-level game design could use text messages or phone calls to connect players with game masters.

Mobile device just used as a communication tool

Pac-Manhattan is such a game. Ten players gather in Manhattan (or other suitable cities) and declare a grid that covers 6 x 4 blocks as playing field. Then players are divided into players and their controllers. One player impersonates Pac-Man and four players try to hunt him down as ghosts. Players wear costumes and are navigated through the grid by their controllers via mobile phone.

Next tech-level would be the usage of GPS information most smartphones provide, but without mixing up reality and virtual space.

Access to real world content

Geocaching is one modern way to hunt for treasures hidden by other players all over the world. The mobile device provides GPS information about the approximate location of the

hidden “cache” which players have to seek. Successful treasure hunters reward themselves by exchanging a small amount of the cache chest and signing the logbook with their established code names.

The current step is adding virtual information to real world experience. A good way to categorize the latest developments is by the degree of virtuality and type of environmental interaction.

Reality augmented by virtual content

Of course, your big question is: “What types of environmental interactions exist?” Firstly, there are player driven environmental interactions, like in “ARhrrrr! – An augmented reality shooter” or Mattel’s “Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots”. Players decide where to play by using their current location and sometimes essential game equipement like printed playboards or AR activation cards (or codes).

Secondly, there are game driven environmental interactions. For example, players of “Life Is Crime” are forced to walk around the town to improve inside the game, because game space is limited to a certain distance surrounding their current location.

The degree of virtuality ranges from text based riddles up to a whole fantasy world like in “Parallel Kingdom”. I believe that this combination of real world maps and game content will be successfull because I assume that the huge run on “Monopoly City Streets” in 2009 was based on the same psychological principles as the mentioned persistent location based mobile games with game driven environmental interactions.

To sum up, this article says that location based mobile games range from almost no virtual reality contents up to almost no real world contents and between game driven and player driven environmental interactions.

Summary and forecast

As you know nobody is able to foresee the outcome of horse races, but I try to do my best. From experience as a game designer and my personal view on (game) history, I forecast a lot of “Parallel Kingdom”-like games – Vampire Kingdom, Greek Kingdom, Roman Kingdom, Zombie Kingdom … and so on. Afterwards there will be tests on old genres fitting into location based mobile gaming. Like infacebook, game complexity will rise. And last stage could be retro games. I am looking forward to running around street corners placing bombs to become AR Bomberman. And don’t forget: The future of gaming is mobile!

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