Are AR Games the Future? How Augmented Reality Gaming is Changing the Game

9 minutes read

Virtual reality (VR) has gripped the gaming community in recent years, but it’s not the only alternative reality technology that’s reshaped how we think about games. Augmented reality (AR) has shown just as much potential as VR with regards to adding more depth to our gaming experiences.

Whether it’s simple puzzles or more complex creations, AR has added new layers of immersion to a variety of games.


Given their conceptual similarities that they both create a virtually realistic experience, some people have pitted AR against VR. But it doesn’t have to be a combative division between the two.

Both express the concept of virtually realistic experiences in different ways, which is why consumers don’t have to choose one or the other. Instead, they can enjoy unique gaming experiences using either innovation.

What is the appeal of AR games?

It enhances your real-life surroundings and adds fantasy and game elements. This technology lets you bring gaming elements into the real world. Now, you can search your environment to discover rare items or capture monsters.

By exploring the history of augmented reality gaming, you’ll see why this technology stands tall on its own and how it can offer experiences traditional games can’t. To explore the potential of AR games and what they bring to the industry, let’s take a look at where they came from and where they’re heading.

What Are AR Games?

Augmented reality gaming combines virtual elements with a player’s surroundings. It maps digital animations onto the physical world. AR games can create simple scenarios where a single object is superimposed onto the user’s environment.

For example, an AR chess game could project a virtual chessboard onto a table. From there, the player would be able to use their device to move chess pieces as if they were moving across the table in front of them.

AR games also have the ability to create complex environments whereby in-game elements and characters interact with the physical world. For example, an AR shooting game could feature a scenario where creatures appear from behind a sofa or have the ability to climb up walls.

These types of games blur the lines between the physical and digital world. In turn, they create an immersive experience the isn’t confined by the limitations of a headset in the way things are in VR games.

How Can I Play AR Games?

Certain headsets allow you to enjoy an augmented reality gaming experience. Google Glass is an example of an AR headset. The glasses let the user see the world around them while also seeing a digital overlay.

This technology is still in its infancy but it’s an example of how AR is evolving and how it has uses outside of gaming.

For the majority of AR games, you’ll use a mobile device. This means you’ll be able to play AR Android games via a smartphone or tablet. Additionally, even though there aren’t any AR Mac games available, you will be able to play via your iPhone or iPad.

The way these games work on a mobile device is simple. Once you’ve loaded up the game, it uses the mobile’s camera, clock, GPS, and gyroscope to read its surroundings. The camera provides the visual data, while the GPS and gyroscope handling positioning.

Finally, the clock ties everything together by letting the software know exactly what point in time things are happening. AR technology can process this information and project digital animations on the world that’s been mapped out by the mobile device.

This means you can hold up your mobile and see digital animations superimposed onto whatever is in the eye line of your device. What’s more, augmented reality technology is now at the point where it can process data from the outside world so fast that there is very little lag.

This allows you to walk around and see an enhanced world via your mobile’s screen in real-time.


The History of AR Games: From the Military to Mainstream Popularity

AR games might be new but the technology behind them has been around since the late 60s. Computer scientist Ivan Sutherland was working on augmented reality at Harvard University throughout the 1960s.

He created a head-mounted device that could use geolocal information (i.e. data from the physical world) to overlay a digital terrain via the device. This technology was originally used for military and aviation purposes.

In many ways, the digital overlay Sutherland’s headset produced was like the heads-up displays now used inside modern cars. Heads-up displays project information onto a car’s windscreen. This information is only visible to the driver or unless you’re in front of the projection.

These displays are, in many ways, an extension of what Sutherland created in 1968.

2008: Augmented Reality Becomes Mainstream

It would take until 2008 for the first commercially available AR app to hit the market. Although augmented reality was being used in the military and aviation, it wasn’t until BMW harnessed this technology to create an innovative advert that it became mainstream.

BMW’s advert was printed in a magazine. Readers could hold the ad in front of their computer’s camera, and it would link to the Mini on the screen. Readers could then move the page around to view the car from different angles.

This connection between the car on the screen and the magazine was the first commercial example of AR in action.

Ready, Set, Go for AR Games

The next few years saw other companies, including Coca-Cola and Disney, use augmented reality in their marketing campaigns. This led up to the gaming industry’s first major AR breakthrough.

Developed by Niantic and Nintendo, this 2016 AR game not only hit one billion downloads within three years, it showed gamers exactly what augmented reality could do for the industry.

The premise was simple: players would use their mobile to search their local environment for Pokémon characters. In essence, it’s a game of hide and seek where digital characters are hidden behind objects in the player’s physical world.

The success of Pokémon Go was the turning point for AR games and, in turn, an example of what’s possible.

AR Hits and Misses: Examples in Gaming

Some believe AR games are the future, while others think it’s already a spent force. One major argument against AR games being the future is the fact nothing has come close to Pokémon Go's mainstream popularity or, indeed, quality.

That game has generated more than $3 billion in revenue which is more than anything else out there. Linked to this argument against AR games is the fact they’re confined to mobile devices.

We know that mobile gaming is a burgeoning market and that products such as Fortnite have thrived in this medium. However, while traditional mobile games have flourished, AR innovations such as Jurassic World Alive and Harry Potter: Wizards Unite haven’t enjoyed the same level of success.

It’s also worth noting that augmented reality has become popular in the advertising world and live experiences. Holovis, a UK-based company, has created a product that links AR and theme park rides.

Guests can use their mobiles to view animated projections inside the ride. The aim is to enhance the experience of a ride by offering something before and after it’s finished. The ride remains the same. But, the digital elements create a world around it that makes it more immersive.

The enhancement of live experiences may be where the augmented reality makes its greatest contributions. Yet, it still has a place in gaming. Indeed, the game Egg, Inc. links to Google’s ARCore to create a seamless merging of the physical with the digital.

It’s the development of products such as ARCore that could take AR games to the next level. There may also be a way to incorporate AR headsets such as Google Glass into the mix.

Creating hands-free experiences could improve the experience because, as it stands, mobile AR games need you to be holding your phone. That’s not an issue given that mobile games are popular. However, the core aim of augmented reality is to create an immersive experience.

Allowing players to use two hands instead of one could make this aim more achievable.

AR vs. VR: Two Innovations That Don’t Have to Compete in Gaming

AR games are built on the foundations of technology that’s been around since the 1960s (!). Products such as Pokémon Go have already shown what’s possible, but it’s hard to escape the influence of virtual reality. AR and VR are, in many ways, shooting for the same goal from different angles.

VR may not be perfect right now but the immersion a headset offers has given it the edge over AR up to this point. The sense of being surrounded by a digital world is something AR can’t offer but VR can. By that token, it seems that VR is more suited to gaming.

However, AR does offer a unique experience and, in turn, some interesting opportunities. While it might not be the right technology for RPGs or adventure games, AR is ideal for digital products that aim to recreate real scenarios.

For example, AR technology could do that by projecting roulette wheels and cards onto a physical table. This is just one example of what’s possible but it shows how augmented reality can fit into the gaming industry at large.

VR and AR are shooting at the same goal, but they don’t have to compete with each other. One is best in certain scenarios, the other can create new experiences in other scenarios. AR can enhance a player’s experience in gaming, as long as it’s in the right setting.

Products such as Pokémon Go have shown that this technology works. Therefore, the goal of all developers in the AR gaming space should be to find their niche. If given the chance, AR games can be another fantastic addition to the industry at large.

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