Are Augmented Reality Games Just a Gimmick?

Posted On: 31 March 2021
Author: Alice
Read Time: 8 Minutes
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Are Augmented Reality Games Just a Gimmick?

AR games have been popular for a few years now, thanks in large to the huge success of Pokemon Go – where kids and adults alike swarmed the streets to catch ‘em all. But how has it evolved and is it still relevant? With studies showing that 35% of non-gamers also expressed interest in AR, it suggests that this hybrid real and fantasy experience is far-reaching with its universal appeal.

Since the beginning of augmented reality, way back in 1968, it has transformed experience-based learning and gaming, creating out of this world experiences for users. And when we say “out of this world”, we literally mean that – the first fully fledged AR system was developed by Louis Rosenberg for the U.S. Airforce Research Laboratory in 1992.

AR games

What is AR Gaming?

Ok, so the military has used this technology but what actually is it and how did it come to be developed for gaming? Augmented reality is the combination of the physical world and pre-created environments to bring an immersive experience to the gamer. 

It’s important not to confuse Augmented Reality with Virtual Reality, where entire 3D surroundings are viewed with a specialised headset. AR uses your mobile device’s camera to track the contours of existing surroundings. The 3D artwork and animations are then anchored to planes within the image. These remain in the same location, even while you move your device and focus your camera on other areas.

How Long Have AR Games Been Around?

The first game to use the AR technology was AR Quake, a first-person shooter game which moved to AR in the year 2000. Players wore a mounted headset display, as well as a backpack containing a computer and gyroscopes to measure the position and angles of the wearer using gravity. 

AR Games

In 2011, Nintendo released AR Cards to use with the Nintendo 3DS. These were collectible cards that gamers could place on a surface and scan with their console to view AR features. For example, players of Nintendogs could place a Nintendogs AR card on their desk, then play a mini AR game with an augmented version of their pet!

Many argue that mobile AR gaming is still waiting for a breakthrough innovation. However, it is widely acknowledged that Pokémon Go launched the trend back in 2016 by Niantic and Nintendo. This revolutionary concept paired 90s nostalgia with the convenience of mobile and sent AR popularity skyrocketing.

The key feature is the ability to move freely in the real world, “catching Pokémon” as you go. Although fairly simple, the game has continued to prove its popularity. Similarly styled games have followed suit, including Harry Potter Wizards Unite, which allows players to delve into the depths of Hogwarts.

Are AR Games the Future of Gaming?

AR gaming is evolving quickly. As developers push the boundaries, AR games are becoming more and more immersive. Take-up is set to increase as games get better and better.

In 2021, it is estimated that the AR industry is worth $30.7 billion, with that figure projected to rise to $296.9 billion come 2024. These figures show that AR is definitely going to stick around as more and more developers and businesses get on board.

As well as monetary success, the games themselves will improve, with almost 4 out of 10 AR gamers agreeing that augmented reality gaming will be more interesting as games become more immersive and accessible. Developers are in a race to perfect the technology and become the go-to provider.

Mobile AR Gaming: Phone vs Console?

In recent years, there has been heavy mainstream investment in AR games. Both Google and Apple have thrown their weight behind projects such as ARCore and ARKit. You can take a look at our recent guide to Apple’s ARKit on our blog. This testing leads us to think that there are more great things to come on Mobile.

Benefits of AR games for mobile phones include:

  • Already owning the console – players can simply download the game without needing an expensive set up
  • Easy Social Sharing – players can screenshot their games and share images with their friends with just a few taps
  • Lower Production Costs – developers can create and release experimental games as mobile apps cheaply. This saves investment for bigger pieces.

Nintendo Switch may be only viable console for AR gaming, as other gaming giants have moved away from portable consoles altogether. The benefits of playing AR games on a device other than a mobile or tablet are obvious: no interruptions. You can focus on enjoying the game without texts or emails clogging up your screen. There’s also less to worry about in terms of data charges, as the game data is held within the cartridge.

Best AR Games so far…

So, if the best AR games are still yet to come, what are people playing right now? We’ve included the obvious big deals and those gems that flew under our radar.

1. Pokémon Go

AR Games

This game burst onto the scene back in 2016 and is still getting play. By combining mobile gyroscope and location technology, the Pokémon Go creators at Niantic were able to create a unique experience for players all for free. Be careful when playing, though: gamers have been known to walk into traffic trying to catch ‘em all. 

2. Ingress

AR Games

Also developed by Niantic, Ingress is an AR game that delves into a post-apocalyptic world that has been attacked by alien forces. Players can take part as either the “Enlightened”, who want to use the new-found alien technology or the “Resistance” who want to keep humanity as it is. The game has been lauded for its involvement in academia, specifically being studied as a connection with globalism and sharing culturally significant sites.

3. Zombies, Run!

For all the survivalists out there, Zombies, Run! is a great training platform for the impending zombie apocalypse. The premise of the game is simple, collect items you can use to survive, help others and of course, run away from the zombies. On its release in 2012, this game became a popular fitness app! Players can track their progress to survive the zombies.

Why isn’t Everyone playing AR Games?

Despite 35% of non-gamers expressing interest in AR gaming, there are social issues which may prevent a faster take-up. As is often the case, cutting edge technologies are not evenly distributed until the experimentation phase is over. Only players who can afford the latest devices and mobile internet can participate in the conversation on AR games.

Internet Availability

While most people have a mobile phone, AR games which require a remote internet connection are inaccessible to many gamers. People avoid using up their data allowance, no matter how engaging the game is. AR games which need people to be away from the home should expect play in short bursts.

Other limiting factors include mobile battery life, having a functioning camera and, of course, the loss of novelty. AR games will have to keep getting smarter and more interactive to keep players engaged beyond the initial thrill.

What Changes can AR Fans Look Forward to?

Better gaming experiences! With investment from big tech companies already being poured into AR gaming technology, fans can look forward to big changes in the coming years.

Immersion is one of those changes that gamers can look forward to, with characters that interact with the physical environment around them – for example climbing trees and building bridges between objects. This will bring more exciting elements to games and enable players to immerse themselves even more.

5G will also play a big part in the development of AR gaming. As broadband technology moves into its fifth generation, players can look forward to a smoother gaming experience with less glitches and interruptions.

Are AR games just a gimmick?

We say that more time is needed to know for certain. Augmented reality games are still in their relative infancy and the jury’s still out on even the most popular applications.

Take Pokémon Go for example. Pokémon was a huge trend in the nineties and early noughties and took the world by storm from trading cards to TV shows and even a few movies. It holds a special place in the hearts of many gamers, which leads us to ask: would Pokémon Go have been as popular if it wasn’t for the Nostalgia? Ingress and Zombies, Run! were released much earlier, but it seems AR was not enough to captivate the imaginations of gamers in the same way.

We still think the big breakthrough game is yet to come. With a decent storyline and an advance in AR technology, a new AR game could gain long term popularity.

AR has already begun to change the world around us, which you can find out more about in our article: The Latest AR Technology and Real-World Examples. There is reason to believe that the augmented reality gaming scene isn’t just a fad and in fact could well change how we interact with gaming forever.