Augmented reality games: Will this summer’s releases be booms or busts?

Contributor Adam Dorfman tells marketers what they need to know and how they might benefit from the upcoming launches of four AR games.

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This summer could be either a boom or bust for augmented reality (AR) games and brick-and-mortar businesses.

Four major AR games are coming that could create more location-based marketing opportunities the way Pokémon GO did in 2016: Ghostbusters World; Harry Potter: Wizards Unite; Jurassic World Alive and The Walking Dead: Our World.

All those games are getting major marketing support, including visibility from Google, whose ARCore toolkit was used to develop three out of four of the games. But is the market getting flooded with too many games at once?

The lesson of Pokémon GO

All four games promise to offer the same kind of AR-based experience that Pokémon GO provided when the game exploded in popularity in the summer of 2016. As brick-and-mortar businesses quickly discovered, Pokémon GO, developed by Niantic, presented them with a lot of interesting opportunities.

The game offered (and still offers) a fun, engaging way for players to use their mobile phones and the Pokémon GO app to win points by finding Pokémon that appeared via augmented reality in designated real-world locations. The skyrocketing popularity of the game created a surge in foot traffic for businesses such as restaurants and coffee shops, where players would gather to capture Pokémon.

As I wrote about when it was released, smart businesses capitalized on the opportunity, launching promotions to attract more players into their stores. Big brands got into the act, too, with McDonald’s signing a co-marketing agreement with Niantic to lure visitors to its restaurants in Japan.

Four games in one year

Two years later, we could see the return of Pokémon GO multiplied by four. Each of the four games will require players to use AR apps to perform feats in physical locations, as described here:

Name of Game Brought to You By The Sales Pitch Notes
Ghostbusters World Sony Pictures Sony Pictures Entertainment Consumer Products, Ghost Corps, and FourThirtyThree Inc.(4:33) “Ghostbusters World gameplay will enable players to battle and capture hundreds of ghosts from all dimensions of the franchise, including the films, TV shows, comic books, theme parks, and video games.” The timing of the release is interesting given that the Ghostbusters remake was released in 2016.
Harry Potter: Wizards Unite Niantic and WB Games “Explore real-world neighbourhoods and cities to discover mysterious artifacts, learn to cast spells, and encounter legendary beasts and iconic characters along the way.” The most highly anticipated AR game of the year.
Jurassic World: Alive Universal and Ludia “In Jurassic World Alive, players can collect a variety of dinosaurs while exploring their own neighborhoods and cities around the world.” Released in conjunction with the movie Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, which hits screens June 22, 2018.
The Walking Dead: Our World AMC and Next Games “Fight walkers in real-world AR environments based on your location.” The official mobile game of the popular Walking Dead TV show.

Opportunity and unanswered questions

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Pokémon GO players are encouraged, through the gameplay, to move around and interact with the physical world.

Brick-and-mortar businesses have plenty of reasons to look at these games as opportunities to create location-based marketing experiences. For example:

  • Like Pokémon GO, all of the games will require participants to get outside and explore locations, which will inevitably entail people wandering to or past business establishments, generating potential foot traffic.
  • Unlike Pokémon GO, these games are not emerging from out of nowhere. All of them are being supported with aggressive marketing — for the games themselves and for the well-known movies, books and TV shows associated with them.
  • Since Pokémon GO was released in 2016, the number of people in the US who use AR has increased, from 30.7 million people in 2016 to 48.1 million in 2018, according to eMarketer.Us Augmented Reality Emarketer

But there are also many unanswered questions. Here are two big ones:

  • Are the games any good? So far, we don’t know if the games are actually going to engage anyone. Niantic hit a home run with Pokémon GO, and a Harry Potter-branded game is a masterstroke of an idea. But past success is no guarantee of future success. The providers of all four games are asking people to take the quality of the games at face value. And so far, quality of AR-based experiences has been hit-or-miss based on reviews of apps on the Apple app store.
  • Is AR big enough to support four games? All four game makers need a critical mass of users to succeed. The 48.1 million Americans who use AR at least once a month account for roughly 15 percent of the US population. Essentially, all four games offer AR enthusiasts variations of the same Pokémon GO experience: scavenger hunts and opportunities to unlock points by achieving various feats using your mobile phone and AR app. Will the market support four very similar experiences?

If you operate a brick-and-mortar business, I suggest that you:

  • Prepare yourself. Anticipate which game aligns best with your business and think through a strategy for capitalizing on the expected popularity of the game. A bookseller may want to promote its stock of Harry Potter inventory and encourage game players to meet up at its store and celebrate Wizards Unite. A natural history museum might want to plan on capitalizing on the success of Jurassic World Alive.
  • Watch for the launch dates and monitor how the games unfold. Use your own eyes, third-party reports and activity on apps such as Foursquare/Swarm to monitor any uptick in foot traffic that may occur at or near your store.

The summer could be a boom or bust. For now, the open questions about each game — including their release dates (still unknown) mean that location-based businesses will need to be ready to anticipate and respond in nimble fashion this summer.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Adam Dorfman
Adam Dorfman is a technology and digital marketing professional with more than 20 years of experience. His expertise spans all aspects of product development as well as scaling product and engineering teams. He has been in the SEO and Local SEO space since 1999. In 2006, Adam co-founded SIM Partners and helped create a business that made it possible for companies to automate the process of attracting and growing customer relationships across multiple locations. Adam is currently director of product at Reputation where he and his teams are integrating location-based marketing with reputation management and customer experience. Adam contributes regularly to publications such as Search Engine Land, participates in Moz’s Local Search Ranking Factors survey, and regularly speaks at search marketing events such as Search Marketing Expo (SMX) West and State of Search as well as industry-specific events such as HIMSS. Follow him on Twitter @phixed.

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