Thanks to Pokemon GO, augmented reality has become one of the hottest mobile technologies around, with developers clamouring to get their hands on it and use it for an exciting new game of their own.
And now, with Apple's ARKit, that technology will be available to a huge audience of iPhone and iPad users, while also giving developers a framework they can work in, rather than having to develop their own.
This sounds like a win for both sides, but it made us wonder - will this new technology be of any use to the indie mobile game developers out there?
To find out, we turned to our Indie Mavens to ask:
- What do you think of Apple’s ARKit from an indie development perspective?
- Do you think there are currently opportunities for indies to be developing AR-based games on mobile?
At the risk of hyping up what's until now been a very overhyped field, I'd say ARKit is potentially the killer app for AR (despite not being an app itself of course).
There's a chance to try it with some fairly radical ideas, abuse the API and write fun things it wasn't expected to do.Aaron Fothergill
AR suddenly went from being this clunky, kinda works concept that either required special hardware or was vague in positioning, to something that runs on all current iPhones and is able to properly weld itself into the live view on the newer ones.
That of course means that for indies, there's a chance to try it with some fairly radical ideas, abuse the API and write fun things it wasn't expected to do. Then actually have normal gamers able to play them.
To a degree, that's what Pokemon GO originally showed, although it was still that early kind of "vaguely over this spot, stick an image in front of you" AR, rather than the illusion that there's actual objects in your space with you.
So Pokemon GO showed AR can be popular (even though it was better played with it switched off to save power…) and ARKit actually seems to bring it to the developers along with the accuracy that'll let us do more intricate games and experiences with it.
At the basic end of things, ARKit makes it pretty simple to drop an AR mode of some sort into current games too. Even if it's just a fun gimmick with an existing game to play it on your coffee table while you design something more cool with it!
A tip for devs: While ARKit will work on a pre A9/A10 chip device, it'll only be the basic gyroscope AR. That makes the low end A9 iPad (the 32GB WiFi one) the cheapest device to grab to play with ARKit properly if you don't already have an A9/A10 device.
I don't see a real opportunity for indie devs in this segment at first glance.Pierre-Luc Vettier
I would love to try ARKit. It seems to be really spectacular from what I've seen in the videos and I'm sure that a bunch of talented developers are already thinking about creating something great and immersive with it.
But a part of me is a bit sceptical. Yes, the technology looks nice, but I prefer to wait a bit for two reasons.
First, between the announcement of the technology and its release, we could have bad surprises as it may not be as accurate and powerful as expected.
And the second reason is like VR and other overhyped technologies, I'm not sure that it will be what players are really waiting for. It could be fun for some particular apps, but I don't feel like players are really waiting for something like this.
That's why I don't see a real opportunity for indie devs in this segment at first glance.
First off, I have to applaud Apple for ARKit. I think it is the most exciting addition to the iPhone/iPad or in fact mobile devices in a long time.
I am genuinely thrilled by the prospect of us making something with it at Nitrome and that's from a studio that only really make 2D retro games. We tried it out briefly and it really does seem quite magic in how well it works!
It's hard to imagine playing an AR game on your commute.Mat Annal
Now having said that, I have two conflicting thoughts on the viability of using it for an indie game. On the one hand, it is brilliant that so many people would have access to this technology on day one.
It's exactly the reason that it's hard to imagine Google's similar Tango platform taking off, as if you don't have an audience, you can't get support, and it all goes full circle. To that degree Apple has made a viable platform.
On the other hand, I feel it's slightly at odds with how users interact with their phone on a daily basis. It's hard to imagine playing an AR game on your commute or in many of the places that you would bring out your phone for a quick session.
The problem with that is monetisation. The App Store has mostly become a free-to-play haven where revenue is drawn from IAPs or ads, both of which are greatly affected by how much time the users actually spend with their app.
I'm worried that this technology, which would have been great in a dedicated device like the Switch, might be stifled by limited revenue streams.
I like to think that the latter will be overshadowed by new and initiative game design. It's hard to imagine exactly what people may come up with as it's a really radical departure from the established ways we have learned to interact with objects using our device.
I think there is a real chance to make something that breaks through the noise of the big players and be a big hit, and that sort of innovation will probably come from the indie space.
High-end VR never really grabbed me as a viable concept for indies. It still feels like there are nowhere near enough units out there, and the fragmentation of device types (Oculus, Vive, PSVR) only compound that issue.
Where VR cuts you off, AR opens up the world.Ben Murch
Handheld VR could be the route into the masses. Everyone has a phone already, the VR lenses are around £10 and work pretty well.
However, it still feels gimmicky, and generally acts as something to show your friends. "Oh, yeah, that's pretty cool..." for a minute. Even then, you still feel cut off from the world... in a non-sustainable, bad way.
AR seriously interests me though. Where VR cuts you off, AR opens up the world. Imagine you and your friends sitting round a table with a virtual tabletop game, all playing through your devices.
Or combining it with geocaching to find actual clues in the world. Or playing a massive game of laser tag through your phone lens with other randoms in your vicinity. Or some sort of Nintendo inspired street-pass concept using AR avatars.
Remember how Pokemon GO got strangers chatting in the real world? So many exciting possibilities!
People already have iPhones, so we know the user base is there. ARKit is brand new, and there'll be a "gold rush" mentality associated with it for months around launch. So, for those reasons, I would fully encourage indie devs to jump in.
Oh, and yes, we'll definitely be doing something with it!
It’s bloody exciting, isn't it? A new technology within reach of a vast audience and a chance to rewrite the rulebooks; opportunities like that don’t come around very often!
At this point, it's clear VR isn't going mainstream any time soon; cost, set-up and its isolating nature, not to mention the technical and physiological impact, were all huge oversights when considering a new technology for the mass audience.
We're going to see new forms of social emerge, new narrative experiences, and infinite practical applications.Travis Ryan
Don't get me wrong, I survived Resident Evil 7 in VR, I'm floored by the potential of Rez Infinite's Area X and long for more X-Wing VR Missions in Star Wars Battlefront, but beyond that initial "WOW!" factor, these aren’t sustainable experiences and crucially it’s difficult to bring people together with VR, it's not an experience I can easily share with family and friends.
AR is almost the complete opposite: Apple's "it just works" design philosophy and its unprecedented reach with millions of units ready to enjoy hassle-free AR when iOS11 launches ensures a kind of shared magic.
As we’ve seen with Pokemon GO, holding up that lens and looking at the world anew is an enriching experience, shared my millions, and that’s a very primitive application of the technology.
It’s not just games, we're going to see new forms of social emerge, new narrative experiences, and infinite practical applications (now that I’m a dad I'm looking forward to holding up my phone to an appliance and interacting with its detailed schematics!).
Dumpling are tinkering with ARKit, its out-of-the-box solutions to world/plane tracking and light matching are impressive, not to mention apples support of third-party engines - Unity seem to be updating AR libs ever other day - it gives development a real momentum that means 3 blokes in a room can tackle the real challenge at hand; content.
So, we’re approaching AR game design with 3 simple rules:
- I believe what I’m seeing.
- I can share what I’m seeing.
- It just works.
Let’s see what we can make!
Augmented reality will be a hot topic at our upcoming XR Connects Helsinki event on September 19th to 20th. For more details and to book tickets, check out the event website.