For augmented reality, all has not gone to plan.
While the rise of the smartphone brought technology capable of pushing AR games into the hands of millions of consumers the world over, few would argue that developers have, so far, failed to take advantage.
Even Ray Sharma, president and founder of longtime AR backer XMG Studio, has to admit the vision many developers had for the genre two or three years ago has failed to masterialise.
With Ghostbusters’ AR tie-in Paranormal Blast, however, XMG believes it may have the answer.
We caught up with Sharma for his take on why smartphone games may be ready to make AR’s run for the top a reality.
Pocket Gamer: What made you decide to take Ghostbusters: Paranormal Blast the AR route?
Ray Sharma: Our first game as a studio was the world’s first multiplayer augmented reality game. Thats a mouthful, but when we ended up winning the ‘Best App Ever’ award for best AR app of the year.
We sat around and dreamed about the ultimate brand for our next augmented reality game and realised that the Ghostbusters brand has always been a perfect fit.
So in answer to your question, we truly chose Ghostbusters to do our ultimate AR game, not the other way around.
The opportunities presented by smartphone tech seemed initially to point towards something of a glory age for AR, but it has arguably failed to take off to date. Why do you think that is?
AR has been called ‘the coolest $0 billion market on the planet’.
There is a certain appeal of AR and the concept of getting virtual information in the real world really captures the imagination. But yet its true that the market has not taken off.
We believe the reason for this is twofold. First, we needed a critical mass of devices.
When we first released Pandemica only the iPhone 3GS had a working augmented reality SDK. It took a long time for the technology to find its way into the iPod touch, but its in there now and every iPhone since the 3GS has been shipping with the ability to do AR.
It’s simply a numbers game. The number of installed devices capable of doing AR has now grown to tens of millions of units which we believe will provide a viable foundation to build upon.
The other thing AR has been lacking is a compelling application that really shows off the technology. We hope that Ghostbusters will do that and open up a new genre of gaming.
What does Paranormal Blast bring to the table both AR and location-based play wise that could change each genre’s fortunes?
On the AR side of things we have an application that truly fits the genre. Ghosts and augmented reality seem to match like birds and a physics game.
The location-based features in Ghostbusters will be released over time. For now we are using the Foursquare API to populate ghosts in your own neighbourhood. So every player will see the same ghost in the same church every time.
We also have the ability for users to take pictures while they are battling the ghost.
It makes for some interesting snapshots including one of our VP Finance in London the other day battling a ghost in front of Big Ben. Users will be able to tweet out their pics, and we are going to have some location fun with that so stay tuned for more development.
What kind of advantage do you get launching a game tied into a hugely recognisable IP like Ghostbusters?
Sony told us about a study they commissioned a couple years ago that was interesting. It found that the Ghostbusters logo was the second most recognisable logo in the world. Right up there with Coca Cola and Apple.
When I was in India there were Ghostbusters t-shirts for sale at the airport.
Later when I happened to be in Costa Rica I noticed a TV show where the story talked about a ghostly sound and how they needed to call Ghostbusters to get some help.
The advantage we get is that many people will recognize this logo and with that brand comes a certain familiarity. Our challenge is that we are delivering an augmented reality experience – something that most users of our game won’t even know exists until they try it out.
Is there added responsibility dealing with such a franchise?
Sony Pictures has been a great partner.
It is very protective of the Ghostbusters brand and its clear that its one of the most cherished brands within a company with many great brands. So we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to deliver a game that they would be proud of as well.
We didn’t want any favours or any special consideration because its using technology that is at the forefront of mobile.
We wanted to bring in the unique qualities of this gaming device – being mobile, including touch, haptics, accelerometer, video camera, gyroscope.
And our goal was to do it in such a way that everyone at Sony remotely connected to Ghostbusters will see that we took a historic brand and combined it with bleeding edge technology to produce something that is truly cool.
Thanks to Ray for his time.