Mobile Mavens

Is augmented reality for smartphones a gimmick or great for games?

The Mobile Mavens have their say on the hot topic

Is augmented reality for smartphones a gimmick or great for games?

Augmented reality is one of the hottest topics in gaming right now.

We all know about the success of Pokemon GO, while other developers like Next Games (The Walking Dead: Our World) and Ketchapp (Stack AR) are following up with their own exciting new AR titles.

Apple and Google are also in on the action with ARKit and ARCore - Apple has even launched new dedicated AR categories on the App Store.

With such buzz around the scene and backing from the major mobile platform holders, while at the same time the VR market is struggling at this early stage, we ask our Mobile Mavens:

How much potential do you think there is in the current AR market for games?

Is AR for smartphones ultimately just a gimmick or can quality experiences and serious money be made from games using this technology (aside from Pokemon GO)?


Torulf Jernström CEO Tribeflame

Easy one, as I already placed my bet at my talk in PGC Helsinki: AR through the phone is a gimmick for games.

It's the feature everyone turned off on Pokemon GO. Sure, it's fun the first session, but can it stand up to several sessions a day, every day? It also limits a bit where and when you can play the game. It can be clumsy on a packed train and embarrassing on the street.

I'd love to be proven wrong, though, and wish the best for Next Games and the others going this route. I hope you can do it!

Once AR comes in lightweight, stylish glasses, I think it can go mainstream. Sort of a cross between Google Glass and Microsoft HoloLens. But that is many years out still.

Aaron Ludlow Product Director PlayStack

I think there was a big misunderstanding by a lot of the (mainly mainstream) media on Pokemon GO. Sure, the AR feature was good, and provided a few laughs when Pokemon appear in funny and quirky places, but the key element for Pokemon GO was the location-based feature.

The key is ease of use and accessibility.
Aaron Ludlow

Take the AR away, and you still have a hugely successful (perhaps slightly less vial) mobile game, but if you take the location-based feature out, the game doesn't hit the heights it has.

I've been hugely impressed by some great AR game experiences and more practical ones such as the IKEA app. Apple's ARkit has opened the doors for so many more devs who previously may have not thought about developing an AR game or app.

I think there is a market there, but the key is ease of use and accessibility and, of course, it has more chance of being commercially viable if the AR is a companion rather than the full experience.

John Ozimek Co-founder Big Games Machine

John is co-founder of PR and marketing company Big Ideas Machine. Also an all-round nice guy...

It all comes down to whether AR adds something to the core experience and doesn't actually get in the way of the gameplay.

As Aaron says, Pokemon GO is a fantastic use of location-based gaming that's built around one of the biggest gaming brands ever. The AR bit was an added extra and helped with the 'isn't this all innovative' PR angle. It didn't open the floodgates to other AR games because the success of Pokemon GO is the Pokemon's.

I've played around with a few AR games on my new iPhone and they are really amazing to look at, but then become quite painful to play, as I have to position myself in relation to the game 'canvas', plus there can be viewpoint and camera issues that detract from the experience.

My son tried one of the tamagotchi-style apps, and the novelty of a dragon sitting on our kitchen table was fun for about five minutes, until he realised it basically doesn't do anything.

The best AR apps I've used have actually been utility apps, where the AR offers me a genuinely useful function.

So as with other new technologies - touch input, gyroscopes, accelerometers, 3D etc - they are only a means to an end. Form follows function.

William D. Volk Chief Futurist Forward Reality

I agree that Pokemon GO succeeded on the basis of:

A. Being Pokemon.
B. The decent location-based stuff.

The AR was nice, but it wasn’t material to the game’s success. (Note in the early 2000s the DoCoMo phone network had a location-based fishing game that was successful).

Can phone-based AR games stand on their own merits (without the benefit of a great license)? I believe they can IF they pass this simple test:

Does AR add value to the game and make the game something that could only made sense in AR?

I also think location-based features are valuable for some AR titles, but copying Pokemon GO is probabily a fool's errand. The bigger thing will be lightweight standalone AR/MR glasses that look like normal glasses.

My prediction? In a decade the smartphone gets replaced with such glasses that recognise speech and gestures and have “inside out” modeling of what you’re seeing.

A rather dystopian view of how that could turn out appears in Keiichi Matsuda's video HYPER-REALITY; the tech is a few years out. (Components in Apple Watch 3 + iPhone X, plus glasses).

Ben Vu CEO SkyVu Entertainment

We think we've made something that might pass your test William. Adding an ARkit survival mode to our Battle Bears Zombies game was straightforward and we think it'll add considerable value to our players by letting them experience our characters in a whole new way. Here's a preview that I hope you'll like:

There's big potential in the current AR market for games. We're excited for the release of the iPhone X where millions of Apple fans will be looking for AR games that will wow them and their friends. Now is a great time to entertain new players that want to experience augmented reality beyond Pokemon GO.

We believe great AR games can be made for smartphones. AR technology keeps getting better and us developers will need to evolve to entertain an audience that will rely on these technologies.

In an age where sharing and watching gameplay is so natural, we think that AR games will enable gamers to share even more compelling experiences that puts their own worlds into play.

William D. Volk Chief Futurist Forward Reality

It looks like fun! Battle Bears was a great game to start with.

Will multiple players be able to battle at the same location?

Ben Vu CEO SkyVu Entertainment

Thanks William! We're focused on nailing a great single player experience but my kids (aka. low-cost high-stress beta testers) think they're playing co-op as our house gets invaded by zombie bears, see here:

Here's a case where we wrongly assumed players would stay in a single spot. Players ran away from the zombies (wouldn't we all?) and ARKit actually kept up with their erratic moves.

This then sparked the idea for bear traps and other AR power ups. We wouldn't have known if we didn't try. So I can't emphasise enough how the accessibility to AR technologies (like Unity & ARKit) coupled with a logical path to some monetisation (App Store) encourages small teams like ours to create different kinds of AR games.

Jared Steffes Co-founder Muxy

Battle Bears looks pretty awesome coming out of the ground, but seeing your kids run around makes a lot of sense!

AR to me is like Doom 3's flashlight mechanic. The game was completely dark unless you had the flashlight on, then you had to seek out the progression and the horrors lurking in the darkness.

I bought it on launch day and really appreciated when someone made a mod to allow the flashlight to work at the same time as the gun. The phone is the flashlight in this scenario, a gateway to what's not visible.

We are lazy af and unless it is a utility we desire for a moment the happiness curve quickly drops off. Especially if it eats at our batteries.

Current AR will lead the next, next generation of breakthroughs in software and UX for when the glasses or implants show up. Until then we are looking at the potential for some awesome gimmicks/advertising and utility apps to help us get to the next phase.

Wilhelm Taht Executive Vice President, Games Rovio

AR is a tool, not a goal. Just like innovation.

Oscar Clark Chief Strategy Officer Fundamentally Games

Oscar Clark has been a pioneer in online, mobile, and console social games services since 1998. He is also author of the book, Games As A Service – How Free To Play Design Can Make Better Games.

I share the frustration over the way the media conflates AR and location games when they talk about Pokemon GO, but despite that I do still feel that this has laid the foundations for regular folks to understand that AR will be a thing.

But for me the biggest trouble in judging the potential for AR is the effect that brand had on audience; unlocking a scale of players that was unprecedented.

Pokemon GO is a game which tapped directly into a desire of the fans of the series to do in real life what they had done for years on their handheld devices - try to catch them all.

I've been amazed at some of the ARKit/ARCore examples I've seen so far. The ability to position an object in space as well as to make some sense of the space offer the opportunity to create amazing new experiences.

The one that has blown me away most recently is a 'Tape Measure' app. If it works as well as the video this will quite litterally be a 'Tool Kit' to unlock incredible games.

But for AR to capture the imagination we need to have concepts that truly make use of the space as a pivotal aspect of the experience. And that use has to be something that captivates the players' imaginations so they are prepared to change their normal behaviours.

People won't get off their sofa's to run around a city unless doing so is so exciting that they can't resist.

If we can do that then I'm convided that these games can be highly successful - but I suspect there will be a lot of shovelware AR which doesn't push any boundaries too. We just have to hope that the best experiences get the attention they deserve.

As it happens I'm consulting on the design of a first person shooter using AR called Reality Clash which just did a very successful blockchain initial coin offering (a discussion for another time).

The social media response has also been astounding; but should we be surprised? How many of us ran around as kids playing 'soldiers'? How many people love paintball? How many people play FPS games and want the chance to play in the real world? Apparently its a lot!

The task now is to make sure that we deliver on their expectations - even with the latest tools, accuracy of position in space is not trivial! But the team have a few tricks up their virtual sleeves.

Richard Hazenberg CEO Lunagames

In the long run I believe VR is more suitable for a wider range of games.

Both VR and AR are also very suitable for marketing and gimmick type apps in shorter-term. Take for example the serious amount of apps downloaded for Google Cardboard today. We can expect to see the market flooded with easy-going AR apps that might actually end up making the most downloads.

With AR standard in iOS I also see more opportunities for AR retail apps, such as looking at furniture in your living room, or AR extensions to a book you bought coming to life on your living room table.

All ideas that have been there for quite some time, but through standard platforms offered through Apple and Google, have a far better chance of reaching the masses.

Head of Content

Craig Chapple is a freelance analyst, consultant and writer with specialist knowledge of the games industry. He has previously served as Senior Editor at, as well as holding roles at Sensor Tower, Nintendo and Develop.