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Location-based games aren't about location, but ownership, reckons PerBlue's Justin Beck

Emotional ties
Location-based games aren't about location, but ownership, reckons PerBlue's Justin Beck
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At the start of 2012, we ran a set of interviews with developers of location-based games.

Then, it was a somewhat nascent genre, albeit with localised successes, but with little evidence of mass gamer appeal.

Nine months on, we've re-interviewed developers who remain focused on location-based games to see how the market has changed and what they hope for the future.

Completing this cycle is Justin Beck, CEO of PerBlue.

Since our interview in January, what's your view on how the location-based gaming market has developed during 2012?

Justin Beck: Location-based gaming has grown tremendously during 2012. We're starting to see some great new titles released, including two of our own - Parallel Mafia and Parallel Zombies are both location-based titles that we launched this year.

Studios such as Red Robot and Grey Area Labs have seen great player and title growth. Red Robot just released Life is Magic, its fourth location-based game. It also launched a 3D rendered engine for modeling the world, which could open up a whole new platform for location-based games.

What do you think has been the biggest news in location-based gaming during 2012?

I think the biggest discovery this year within location-based gaming is that the space is sustainable. We're seeing more developers creating great titles that utilise location-based mechanics.

Do you think location-based gaming is a good niche or does it still have the potential to be truly mass market?

Location-based gaming as a whole will most likely continue to be a niche, but it is growing and viable space. There is so much emotional connection to location - this is what attracts and helps retains our player base.

On the other side of the coin, I could see other more mass market games may begin to incorporate location-based elements, but not to the extent that they would be categorised as a 'location-based' game.

What do you think remain the key challenges in the space?

I had the chance to attend a location-based panel at GDC Online, and overall it seems like we are all learning the same lessons and pain points associated with location-based gaming as we go.

PerBlue's most recent release Parallel Zombies

One of the lessons we learned really early on was the limitations of physical location for gameplay. We were lucky enough to adjust our strategy and overcome this early on in Parallel Kingdom's history.

Given all the problems, why do you remain committed to location-based games?

Because it's a niche within the mobile industry that has proven to be successful for PerBlue. We've learned over the last four years that really niche products have legs and can be sustainable in the long term.

We think it's a really unique and interesting fantasy associated with claiming territory, and there is so much emotional attachment connected with location. Players actually feel like they own the territory they claim, and are committed to defending it.

Do you think developers need to take a more subtle or layered approach to building location into their games, rather than it being the key feature and/or the game being very map oriented? What do you think are the best ways to do this?

Google Maps continues to be the main game board within each of our titles; the location-based aspect is a visible and key feature within each title. However, being physically in the place you are playing has become less important.

By not tying game play solely to location, we've greatly improved gameplay and player retention. If a player gets bored playing in a certain area, they can virtual travel through an in-game invite or exploration system.

What variation do you see in the take up of location-based gaming in terms of global reach and variation? At the moment, it seems very US-centric?

Our games can be played all over the world, players claim territory from Mt. Everest to the Grand Canyon. However, we see 75 percent of our players are logging in from the United States.

Our international player base is generally small, but it growing and a tight knit community currently. These numbers may vary a bit from other location-based developer's international communities. For example Grey Area Labs, creators of Shadow Cities, is based in Helsinki, Finland.

How are you attempting to push the market in terms of the games you're making?

We are continuing to explore and experiment in the location-based gaming space. This last summer we released Parallel Zombies, the next generation within our suite of location-based games. Parallel Zombies is an entirely new gameplay experience, we've introduced a redesigned play style with joystick controls, a main quest line, and a slew of zombies to slaughter.

We're also investing in more community outreach efforts within our flagship title Parallel Kingdom. This includes community oriented contests and events.

Thanks to Justin for his time.