The academic homestead of Annika Waern

PC gamer on location-based gaming

Following up on Markus Montola’s GDC presentation on Shadow Cities, David Caw writes a column at PC gamer with the title ‘Where are the great location based games‘. The article is basically a rant about how hard it is to make locations actually matter in games, and that it is only a few games that have succeeded in doing so. David mentions Foursquare of course, but I find the example of Nintendo’s ‘Street Pass‘ more interesting. Street Pass is a social community service, that synchs between 3DS players as they pass each other on the street. They swap a tiny player profile, and may also swap game tokens (such as trading cards or puzzle pieces). The function is almost exactly the same as in ‘Hocman‘ that my colleague Oskar Juhlin and his group developed for bikers in 2002. Except Nintendo seems to have missed out on the one function that the bikers found most rewarding – the little ‘beep in the helmet’ that they got every time they passed another Hocman-equipped biker.

The reason why Street Pass (and Hocman) is an important example is that it is not GPS-based. It is a mistake to believe that location-based games must require precise positioning. The key to creating great location-based games is not using the GPS, it is understanding what is fun in locations. And we know quite a lot about that already. Shadow Cities shows that sharing map data of real places can be as interesting as actually being located on the spot (hence the preference for couch play), and Street Pass shows that just knowing that another player is in the vicinity is a great game asset. To these, I would add that it is fun do document  – all tourists know that photographing or filming yourself on location is meaningful, and just as we used it as the core function of the Traveur community service it could be made into a key component in a locative game. The check-in function of Foursquare is the simplest form of documentation (‘I was there’), and nowadays Foursquare supports uploading a photo with checkins. Finally, the physical world affords physical activity: running, climbing, dancing… and right now it seems like the biggest surge in GPS-based apps are apps about exercising. Putting physical activity into locative games may take a bit more advanced technology, but it can be done as Movinto Fun’s Oriboo roll-out shows.

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