Going Geo-Social and Hyper-Local

I’m excited about the recent launch of our Paranormal Activity: Sanctuary iPhone game for many reasons — First, it’s Ogmento’s first big game title, and it feels great to finally have something out in the market. Even more so, this game represents a new breed of game design & platform, that is very powerful and represents the next generation of location-based gaming.

The Paranormal Activity: Sanctuary game can be described as a “Geo-Social, Massive Multiplayer, Augmented Reality Game.” That’s a mouthful, so lets call it a GSMMARG for now (if you have a better acronym, let me know). These three unique areas have individually generated a lot of buzz over the past year, but few have combined them all into one big game experience before.

On The Geo-Social side, the most common examples of popular mobile games include Foursquare, Gowalla, SCVNGR, and MyTown. Still, while these apps might offer badges and rewards for your geo-social activities, only MyTown is really close to being a game. Foursquare and the like are more akin to LBS social networks, which offer “badges” for repeat visits to certain locations (check-ins) . While these Geo-Social apps are all the rage right now, there are some inherent flaws to the way they are set up, which make them 1) not very fun or engaging, 2) not very accurate, which encourages cheating, and 3) more suited as city-guides / utility apps than any sort of true game experience.

The Paranormal Activity Game developed by Ogmento takes a newer (and what I believe to be a much more engaging) approach to Geo-Social games. Using Google maps as our “game board”, players can dynamically change the tides in the battle between good and evil, and see how that plays out in real-time, in the real-world. If you neighborhood is infected by demonic activity, you can see that on a map (Hell Holes). You can then create safe havens (Sanctuaries) by casting spells, and see how the game board (map) changes instantly. Missions in turn are not as much about “check-ins” as they are about treasure hunting along a story-line path to discover unique locations, and unlock special items which allow for more powerful spells, etc. Unlike other Geo-Social apps, the power of this game can “drive” a player to a specific location for fun and rewards. We can create missions on the fly at any specific location or time, which is very powerful. For example… when the third Paranormal Activity movie comes out in theaters this October, we can drive people to the movie theaters opening night as a mission, and allow them to unlock special spells and rewards.

So let’s talk Hyper-Local! As I mentioned, the check-in is inherently flawed because one can check in to about 40 different locations from the comfort of their house. GPS alone is not very accurate, and rewarding somebody for visiting your retail store when they haven’t really visited does not make much sense. The lack of accuracy encourages cheating, and makes the experience less rewarding for those who play by the rules. Ogmento can take the idea of check-ins much further by using computer vision to essentially “verify” the visit. If the GPS is telling me I am standing near a Starbucks, and at the same time, I am “looking at” a Starbucks logo via my phone camera, we have a powerful combo. Now, add in a bit of Augmented Reality, and trigger an interactive experience off of the logo, as well. Now the player is engaged with the brand, experiencing a cool mixed-reality experience, unlocking special rewards, and truly verifying the visit.

Currently, the Paranormal Activity game has a hyper-local augmented reality experience that is not tied to locations, but rather from user-generated content. We wanted to show-off a bit of true hyper-local AR in the game, as most AR games in market still use GPS only, or other non-computer-vision techniques. We also did not want the user to have to print anything out, and to make the trigger something fun and unique, which tied into themes of the game. We came up with “sketch-casting” where players cast spells by sketching a pentagram, and focusing their camera on the drawing. The player can create their own star sketch, and witness a true computer-vision AR experience as part of the game — a sample of things to come.

If you have an iPhone, be sure to check out Paranormal Activity: Sanctuary, and try it out for yourself. While this horror-themed RPG might not be for everybody, the power of the platform is very evident. Ogmento will be launching more titles this year, which follow along the lines of PA:S. We’ve gone geo-social and hyper-local, and the mobile game space will never be the same again.

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