Back when the 3DS launched in the UK (yes, cast your minds back), I remember taking my younger brother to a branch of GAME. Whilst he was dealing with whatever it was he wanted (my guess is trading in 10 copies of old COD games to get £1 off the latest one), I browsed the Nintendo titles. Now, at this time I had just left University and was quite happy using my DS on my commute, but the young sales rep wanted to try and tempt me to the new hardware.
“Can I show you the AR?” he asked, convinced he was inches from a sale. Confused and drawn in by buzz words, he displayed one of the most underrated features of the 3DS, the AR cards. As the little question block materialised into view only for me to shoot targets I was almost sold. Heck if future me had mentioned the ambassador program, I may have even found a way to snatch one up, but we all know the rest of the story. Poor game library and high cost meant frugal me just wasn’t prepared to part with my DS handheld yet.
Augmented Reality – The Beginning
Since the release of those AR cards, Nintendo hasn’t slept on the technology. Nor has it really thrown itself into it. Rather, it has done what most big technology companies have done and relied on others to test the water. Obviously some offerings have been more successful than others, spawning countless imitations trying to cash in on the trend.
The most obvious is Pokémon GO! The hugely successful title made possible by combining Niantic’s Ingress software and enhancing it with the Pokémon IP. The collaboration created a game that is still in the top selling list years on. With such a diverse group of trainers playing, there is no denying the pull of a well marketed app. I say well marketed because there are plenty that have imitated the formula and fallen foul despite popular IPs…
Other AR Titles
Pokemon GO’s hype may be showing signs of slowing. The occasional media flare over festival events bringing it back to the fray periodically. So, what’s next for Augmented Reality? Well, Nintendo again have already been showing us the next steps while also testing interest at consumer level. Alongside this, they have again been partnering with Niantic to see how less popular IPs do with the format.
I am of course referencing Mario Kart: Live Circuit and Pikmin Bloom. The former being a fairly modest success with 1.3 million units sold. The game falls short in relying on having lots of open floor space to make creative and enjoyable courses. This may have been a factor in sales when consumers are cautious with parting with cash in a post-Covid economy. I, for one, put off buying at launch reminiscing of how often we got to play with Scalextric and Subbuteo. As kids in a small house they weren’t out often and didn’t stay up long.
However, the technology is already an improvement on the AR cards. The AR copes with faster movement, multiple icons, and details at once that earlier AR titles struggled with. Unfortunately this comes down to one major issue with AR. The Switch is fundamentally better suited to AR gaming as a dedicated console as opposed to a mobile device. Mobile AR fundamentally has some hurdles to overcome if it is to progress. Dedicated hardware combined with innovative software are only half the battle. Consumer demand completes the vicious cycle.
Driving the AR Future
So how do companies drive demand for AR enough for the technology to develop and the software to support it? By using what already exists of course! As Nintendo have shown time and time again, the most popular technology isn’t always the most up to date, rather an innovative use of what already exists. Pinfinity is a company clearly championing that approach.
A simple enamel pin badge can say a lot about a person. Supporting a cause or just showing off your own personal brand admiration. The collecting and trading of pins, particularly in the USA, becoming ever more popular thanks to, who else but the Walt Disney Company. I even own some Disney pins myself. So, what made me single out one designer over another? Simple, their use of Augmented reality in their designs! I first became aware of Pinfinity when they released their Magic: The Gathering ranges. The original designs focused on some of the main characters, and then I saw what they could do!
Pinfinity are already pushing what their pins can do, with upgrades to existing pins as well as new product. For example, the recent update to the Dungeons and Dragons D20 pin allows it to function as an actual D20, giving roleplay gamers yet another shiny math rock to play with! But, also a product that can be used on the go! It is this kind of innovation that I see driving the short term use of AR.
Let me introduce to you – My future!
You wake up and decide to head to a local video game store. The latest title in that franchise you love has just released. You could buy it on the eShop, but where’s the fresh conditioned air in that? On arrival you see row of games, but unlike what you are used to, each is a different title. No rows upon rows of game cases, just the cover art. This is an AR store, you load your app and start to scan.
With each title you scan you’re presented with options. Do you want to view the game trailer? Do you want to compare prices with other stores? What about some free exclusive content from the store? You opt for some free phone wallpapers and a free soundtrack piece while you compare the store to the eShop. The store itself is out of download codes, bummer! But their store across town has copies so, a few clicks and the title is downloaded without having to travel!
An advert pops up reminding you of their preowned games sale, because physical still exists. You think why not treat yourself as you one. The order generates a response for the seller, telling them when the courier will pick up their sold game and when to expect their percentage of the sale. Before leaving, a notification says your download has completed and is on your console ready to play. Time to meet some friends for a coffee and some portable gaming fun!
This sounds a little creepy sci fi fantasy to me!
Rather than sounding like something from science fiction. Some retailers already use AR to their advantage. One popular use being the make up retailer Sephora. Using the front facing camera, shoppers can get an idea of how that shade of lipstick will work with their complexion. Don’t wear make up? Opticians use the same software to see how frames will look before making them. The only difference is with video games, we don’t need to see how they look on us.
Personally I think AR will work well in game retail. With the push to digital purchasing, brick and mortar stores struggle to set themselves apart. If what changes is the experience, then the retail environment becomes more enticing again. Stores no longer focused on physical purchases, but in what exclusives they give a customer, the ease of purchasing and the time they save in doing so giving them more time to browse.
For fans of the artwork and physical media, these can all still exist. Want the box art for your collection, well the local printer will make that up for you for collection or delivery. Want to pay more for the collectors? Steelbook? We can have those printed and dispatched by the end of today. Or would you prefer to see the artwork… on a pin?
AR is still in it’s infancy, often overlooked by the “more attractive” VR, but a push in technology and software will only happen really with a demand for it and that requires the right application. The augmented features of already existing products is clearly a boon for the retail industry, but maybe one the gaming retailers are missing out on by clinging to the fact they can often undercut the digital market, something that is already starting to weaken. It’s certainly something that I’d like to see trialed at the very least.