While the key focus for consumer-facing mixed reality devices remains virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) is making in-roads in the enterprise market. Big companies like Facebook (Oculus Rift), HTC (Vive), Sony (PlayStation VR) and Google (Cardboard, Daybreak) are investing billions into headsets that transport users into virtual worlds. We recently highlighted the best VR headset to buy for Christmas, but this is just the beginning of VR hardware. In addition to these commercially available headsets, Microsoft has already shipped its HoloLens Developers Edition as well. As these devices become available, some of the first applications will be in gaming.
According to research firm International Data Corporation (IDC), the AR/VR market will grow from $5.2 billion this year to over $162 billion in 2020. IDC forecasts that more than half of worldwide AR/VR revenues will be generated by hardware.
While IDC doesn’t break apart augmented from virtual reality, SuperData Research does. That firm has virtual reality becoming a $10.2 billion market by 2018, followed by mixed reality with $2.2 billion and augmented reality with $1.9 billion.
Microsoft is already supporting augmented reality through it’s $3,000 HoloLens Development Edition headset, and that’s expected to become a consumer product in the coming years. In addition, the Windows 10-powered $300 headsets coming in 2017 from Acer, Dell, Lenovo, Asus and HP will support AR as well as VR.
Niantic showed the potential for AR gaming with its Pokémon Go sensation this summer that raked in a ridiculous amount of money. Can other augmented reality game companies follow suit? Here are five augmented reality game studios to keep an eye on.
Niantic Labs is the company behind Pokémon Go, the smash hit that has been downloaded over 500 million times and has more than 20 million active players. The augmented reality game has generated over $600 million at a rate of about $2 million per day. It’s clearly the biggest tech success story of this past summer. And the game, which challenges players to seek out virtual Pokémon characters hidden in the real world using smartphone GPS tracking, has remained a mainstay for gamers. Although its numbers have dropped off, new updates like the introduction of buddies and daily bonuses helped the company earn $200 million around Halloween.
Niantic, which partnered with Nintendo and The Pokémon Company on this project, has been at the forefront of AR technology for years. Five years ago, Niantic launched Ingress, another AR game that sent players into the real world in a massively multiplayer online story. Ingress has marketed brands like Hint Water, SoftBank, Motorola, Vodafone and AXE through the narrative of the free-to-play game. That game remains active, although nowhere near as popular as Pokémon Go. The company, which spun off from Google in October 2015, has the technology and infrastructure in place to partner with other brands on AR multiplayer games. The company has received $35 million in funding from Google, Nintendo, and The Pokémon Company.
Asobo Studio is a French game company that has already made a mark in the nascent augmented reality space through its partnership with Microsoft. Every $3,000 HoloLens Development Edition headset comes packed in with three augmented reality games. Two of those games, the platform action game Young Conker and the murder mystery Fragments, were developed by the small team at Asobo. The third game, RoboRaid, was created internally at Microsoft.
That gives Asobo a head-start in the augmented reality game space, which is expected to grow in the next decade along with the penetration of headsets like HoloLens (no consumer release date yet) and the Windows 10 headsets launching in 2017. Microsoft’s fall 2017 console, Project Scorpio, might also support augmented reality.
The games Asobo developed are impressive. Instead of playing on a traditional screen, the physical room you’re in becomes the level. That sofa will be an object Conker explores, or a detective from Fragments sits on as he interrogates you. This also means no two games will be alike because players can move from room to room for new interactions. Asobo chief creative officer David Dedeine said interactivity from sci-fi films like Minority Report or Iron Man are now within reach. And it’s obvious gaming is part of Microsoft’s bigger plans for AR, having invested in these three HoloLens games to seed the development industry.
CastAR was founded by former Valve developers Jeri Ellsworth and Rick Johnson. While Valve is focusing on virtual reality with its SteamVR operating system and the HTC Vive, castAR is launching its own augmented reality device and games in 2017. The company has raised $15 million in funding led by Android creator Andy Rubin’s Playground Global. CastAR has been busy building out a large team of developers to create exclusive AR games for the platform, which has been demonstrated at trade shows like the Game Developers Conference and E3 in 2016. After Disney Interactive shuttered its Disney Infinity franchise, the key studio involved in creating the bestselling toys-to-life game franchise, Avalanche Studios, was closed. CastAR swooped up key creatives from that team, paired them with internal developers at castAR Salt Lake City, and signed a deal with Salt Lake City independent developer Eat Play Sleep to create a line of games that mix reality with virtual characters.
CastAR doesn’t face a lot of competition at this early stage of AR gaming. And the company has brought in former PlayStation and other executives to lead the marketing charge. If they can deliver killer apps and the hardware is at an affordable price point, this could launch a whole new platform for game makers to develop for.
Six to Start debuted their first augmented reality game called Zombies, Run! which is a great example of using an augmented reality game to encourage players to exercise. While Pokémon Go got players walking a lot, Six to Start actually designed its Zombies, Run! game for jogging. The studio worked with writer Naomi Alderman to craft a post zombie apocalypse story set in Abel Township that’s relayed through your headphones in between your personal music playlist. As Runner 5, the player jogs through a series of location-based missions, collecting items to help the town grow and survive while evading zombies. The more you exercise, the better protected the town becomes.
The concept connected with runners, becoming the top-grossing Health and Fitness app on iOS within two weeks of launch in 2012. Since then, the game world has expanded to include Android devices. In October 2012, the studio released Zombies, Run! 5k Training, a spin-off fitness app designed to help prepare new runners for their first 5k. The company has even offered a series of virtual races, which charged $40 to enter and introduced exclusive missions, prizes and a global leaderboard. This opens up a world of new AR gaming that doesn’t require constantly checking your screen to interrupt your exercise routine.
Founded in 2007, ZenFri has used augmented reality for games like Clandestine: Anomaly. This tower defense game uses real world map locations to battle virtual aliens in a sci-fi intergalactic war.
The critically-acclaimed game launched on Apple iOS and has expanded to Android. This augmented reality game continues to add new locations and content. Located in Winnipeg, Canada, the small studio has expanded beyond short films and art experiments to embrace augmented reality.
While there are not that augmented reality gaming companies today, expect that to change as the technology matures, more AR devices are developed that aren’t just smartphones, and people begin to get accustomed to overlaying their reality with a virtual one.
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