Developing Games for the Real World Metaverse

Mobile AR experiences that offer a sophisticated blend of game play and narrative storytelling.

As they announce here Niantic are developing MARVEL World of Heroes.

Niantic are the creators of Pokemon Go and the idea of WOH is a similar AR mobile game that brings the iconic Marvel Universe into the real world and is scheduled to launch globally in 2023.

NME reports that players will be able to create a unique Marvel super hero and utilize Niantic’s real-world gaming capabilities to patrol neighbourhoods in search of crimes to prevent as well as completing super hero missions.

The game will also enable leveling up in order to unlock equipment and abilities as well as teaming up with other Marvel super heroes such as Wolverine, Captain America, Spider-Man and more to battle the series’ most iconic villains.

Gaming in the Real World Metaverse

An especially powerful concept is where and how the Metaverse will intersect with Augmented Reality. To date most conversations about the Metaverse are dominated by the idea it is a space you will enter, typically via a VR headset.

Niantic CEO John Hanke has a different vision, one where the Metaverse is not constrained to a world you enter, but rather it is infused into the world you live in, the “Real World Metaverse”.

In his interview with Wired John explains his simple idea, that being outside is much healthier for humans than being locked away indoors, something that is entirely relatable as we approach two years of a Covid suppressed world and being online endlessly via Zoom becomes a soul destroying experience. Ergo the VR world Metaverse will be this x100.

So the opposite, inspiring ideal is that the Metaverse can enhance and improve our human experience. He recounts how those that played Pokemon Go, the first venture Niantic created on this journey, reported being physically active much more.

That’s certainly a much more encouraging vision of the Metaverse, one that brims with potential for a myriad of exciting scenarios of benefit to society and to business. Tourism in particular, where you can overlay a historical reenactment in the place it happened centuries before for example.

Location-Based AR Games and Niantic Lightship

John’s mission now is to enable developers to build their own Pokemon Go type games and experiences.

As TechCrunch reports they launched ‘Lightship‘, an AR Developer Kit (ARDK) that will make building augmented reality experiences more accessible. This free, openly available technology will help Niantic lay the foundation for its vision of the “Real-World Metaverse.”

They offer this Getting Started video and some useful primer articles like this one and this one.

Industry experts provide other helpful insights, such as How To Build a Pokemon Go Type App and How to Build an AR GPS App, and examples of similar games such as The Witcher, and a list of 8 top games in 2020.

Ingress – Developing ‘Live Fiction’ gaming

Pokemon Go was preceded by Ingress (Wikipedia), which while not as well known achieved a similar scale of engagement and offers a slightly more nuanced case study to explore the potential for location-centric AR gaming.

The story is introduced and explained here and here, and Colin Williams provides a starter guide.

At this DICE talk John Hanke explores the core concept, what he describes as ‘Live Fiction’ gaming. As the term suggests this refers to game play that is intertwined with and defined by a compelling story, in this case the battle between ‘The Enlightened’ and ‘The Resistance’ for control of Earth.

It’s not just a backdrop to set the scene but rather an integrated format, where ongoing developments in the storyline affect what happens in the game play and also vice versa, outcomes of gaming affect how that storyline evolves.

What is particularly interesting is how that story is communicated to players, ranging from books and comics that provide snapshots of progress and also explainer on-ramps for new members, through to filmed scenes and cryptic social media messages. These messages contain clues that ‘hackers’ within the game crack and then share with other players.

This highlights how the mobile app is only the base building block for the game experience, which is formed in totality as an overall universe of multiple mediums and content, enabling a very deep immersion both in terms of gaming but also critically storytelling narrative.

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