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Location-based games should never be limited by location, reckons PerBlue CEO Justin Beck

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Location-based games should never be limited by location, reckons PerBlue CEO Justin Beck
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It may sound like a strange concept, but in the view of PerBlue CEO Justin Beck, some location-based apps are too focused on location.

Of course, Beck doesn't believe such apps should do away with location altogether, instead he believes far too many set about trying to entice users to certain spots the downside of that being, if your userbase isn't out and about, they won't engage with your title.

Location-based titles should try and make the most of players, wherever they happen to be, he argues.  

We caught up with Justin to see why he thinks the play part of location-based play should always come first.

Pocket Gamer: Do why do you think location-based games have the potential to be a significant part of the industry?

Justin Beck: Yes, but it all has to do with execution.

People want to participate in and become more involved with their immediate surroundings. Much like we tend to root for sports teams that are closest to us, there's an emotional attachment to your location.

We want to play against neighbours and the people we interact with every day. However, we can't simply offer games that rely on location to provide the excitement.

Location-based games can, and must, blow past the niche by executing phenomenal gameplay to the point where players absolutely love playing them again and again.

But if that was easy, we wouldn't have to answer this question. The technology is already in smartphone owners'hands. Developers need to make location part of a fantastic game execution - the innate appeal of location is too strong to go untapped.

What are your views on balancing gameplay between single and multiplayer elements?

Striking a balance between single and multiplayer elements is essential to creating a great location-based game that appeals to many styles of players. We found that even though we wanted integrate multiplayer elements eventually, the single player elements needed to be good first.

For Parallel Kingdom, that means allowing a player to achieve goals and enjoy gameplay on his or her own, but create challenges that are either unsolvable unless players work together, or provide greater rewards when you work with those around you.

It's worth noting that multiplayer elements make the game much more exciting and deep. These social and collaborative elements allow your players relate and interact with each other, forming that deep emotional connection with other users and to the game.

What are your views on a/synchronous play with respect to multiplayer features?

In the games we develop at PerBlue, we provide a mix of tasks and gameplay features that reward playing alone, with those that in the game at any given time, and with friends that may or may not be present.

We prioritise making every visit to the game rewarding over forcing players to play with specific partners.

Synchronous play is where true relationships are built. It's the holy grail of MMOs. When you're at a party experiencing gameplay together, there is an emotion connection and everyone has much more fun. We try to facilitate those moments to make synchronous play and fun exciting, while also making asynchronous play rewarding.

In short, games should ideally have features for both synchronous and asynchronous play, but both have a very specific purpose.

What are the biggest challenges that need to be solved in location-based games?

The biggest challenge is successfully merging fantasy with location elements in a way that players love and keep wanting to play. This is the golden goose. As soon as those things are married, that game will be the blockbuster hit.

One challenge that we encountered and eventually overcame was being too fixated on where the player was, and not enough on creating a true fantasy of playing in that location.

Location should never be a limiting feature which is why we enable travel beyond your current location in our flagship game Parallel Kingdom.

We learned early-on that players generally only head to three or four locations regularly home, work or school, the grocery store but there's a desire to connect with locations beyond your physical place.

To that end, we've made it fairly simple to travel to new places to build and grow your in-game footprint and that helps keep things fresh for our longtime players. Developers need to be much gentler on requiring players to be in a certain physical location, and more focused on creating an experience tied to a location.

What do you think gives PreBlue a competitive advantage?

Parallel Kingdom is designed to be a very deep game. It entertains players for extended periods of time, months and even years.

There are a variety of components that make that possible, but the biggest aspect to this retention is deep synchronous and asynchronous features that give the players the freedom to take on their own fantasies within the game.

Aside from your own titles, are there any other location-based games you enjoy playing?

Life is Crime, MyTown, MyTown 2, Shadow Cities, I’ve played these games a little, but none have kept my attention for any significant amount of time.

Do you think the inclusion of GPS and mobile-like social features in the PS Vita will help the market's growth?

The mobile device market is and will continue to be a competitive landscape. Sony and Nintendo need to continually innovate and push the limits of their devices to remain competitive.

Both will need to tweak their business models to support virtual goods and GPS elements within

their titles and devices.

When's the last time you check-in with Foursquare?

Over a year ago at least. Check-ins are too static and not engaging enough for me.

Where do check-in tools go next?

Check-ins are very light, but still an interesting aspect to location-enabled apps.

It's a simple public acknowledgement of your approximate location or a location that represents your current state-of-mind. A check-in alone is not enough to keep user engagement and attention.

In Parallel Kingdom, we create a fantasy around location. The only thing that resembles a check in is traveling in-game to a location. While others see you there in the game, there's no confirmation that you are there physically, and you may not be.

Many of our players establish territory at a favourite vacation destination, and travelling there in-game could recall fond memories or allow players to engage with friends made on a trip.

There are tons of things you can do with products and restaurants check-in, but the most growth will be in greater engagement and retention with location-based games.

What's next for PerBlue?

We've just introduced Parallel Kingdom for Facebook and we are going to be adding new features that take advantage of the connection with Facebook friends in the game.

We've learned so much and had great success with Parallel Kingdom and, while the game has a lot of legs left, we are really excited with where we are headed with the Parallel franchise in the upcoming months.

Thanks to Justin for his time.

You can find out more about PerBlue on the studio's website.