The future's not about location, it's about context and location, says Gbanga's Rafael Morgan

Adding layers of immersion

The future's not about location, it's about context and location, says Gbanga's Rafael Morgan
| Gbanga

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.

So let's find out what Rafael Morgan, social media manager at Swiss developer Gbanga makes of the situation.

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

Rafael Morgan: We've seen a definite increase in Gbanga players around the world especially in Scandinavia, Germany and USA, and the number of customers approaching us to deliver location-based games. This is partly down to a greater general awareness of location-based services.

Back in 2009, Gbanga was a genuine pioneer in this area, and it was often very difficult to communicate the benefits of such a progressive platform.

Now that location-based services are becoming more commonplace, we can focus a lot more of our work on story and gameplay development, rather than expending time explaining intrinsic game mechanics.

Globally we've also seen increased adoption of location-based gaming in emerging markets, such as Brazil, and Russia.

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

We see increased enthusiasm from small and medium-sized businesses searching for innovative location-based advertising solutions. Gbanga has created some unique showcases in Europe to answer this demand with promo quests and white label solutions. We're now gearing to bring these products to new markets.

For us it's also been the evolution from location-based to context-based gameplay, which is a shift that integrates real-world factors - weather, day of the week, time, friends location, and proximity to certain landscapes - into the gameplay experience.

This gives players a unique set of skills based on their real-world location, and their current environment.

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

We believe that location and context is going to be a crucial element to deliver more relevant and appealing entertainment content such as games with movie-style narratives.

In the near future we envision the entire entrainment industry using location-based mechanics in innovative ways, much like the mechanics that we're pushing with Gbanga's games today. Many more developers will use location-based services in more passive ways that don't affect the core content.

On the other hand, location-based gaming-in the sense of geocaching-style quests-will remain a good niche for the time being, as few people are happy to dedicate hours of their day wondering around town to progress within a game.

That's why Gbanga Famiglia is deliberately designed to allow for short stints of gameplay, without explicitly asking players to depart from their daily routines.

New technology, such as Google's Project Glass, will may make location-based gaming experiences more engaging and accessible by softening the conceptual barrier between reality and virtual worlds.

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

Gbanga Famiglia is our showcase for a contemporary game concept that could easily evolve into an experience that can host a movie-style narrative.

Our current projects have seen a lot of success, as we've scaled our ideas down to fit current player expectations; offering short stints of gameplay on-the-go. We see this as doing the groundwork by testing out ideas, educating the market, and learning from our experiences.

However our original vision for the medium hasn't changed, and we'll continue to increase the scope of our projects until the public is ready to play games in the real-world that rival the narratives in films and console games. We firmly believe that movie-style narratives can exist on such a platform-it's a vision we've held onto from the outset.

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?

Maps work very well because they're a concept that the majority of users understand, and it's therefore easy for them to make the conceptual connection between the game world and the real world. So we believe that both approaches-a layer, and map orientated approach-have their unique strengths and work well together.

The key lesson that we've learned is that a significant number of users are averse to playing games that require them to make journeys outside of their daily routine - particularly if the journey is to a new location, at a specific time of the day. Players are much happier to engage in location-based gameplay if it can be played on their daily routes in and around town.

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?

We believe that this (US-centric reach) is a momentary situation that will change once new games are launched and local critical mass springs up around the world. In our opinion North Americans are more open to try new ideas, such as location-based gaming, but we believe that it's only a matter of time until location-based games become bigger worldwide.

In Gbanga Famiglia we've seen niche communities popping up in Japan, South Korea, and Brazil, for example. We also have a large and dedicated player following in Switzerland, and Germany.

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

We're constantly trying to bring more console-style gameplay into our games. What we mean by this is, creating an experience that makes the player feel like they're their favourite video game character, only in a game that plays out in the real world.

Creating this emotional experience of empowerment is extremely difficult given the limitations of mobile platforms, and the conceptual barrier between reality and fiction. However the latest features in Gbanga Famiglia are bringing the console experience closer than ever before.

We're about to launch a fully featured mobile HTML5 beta-version, which will coincide with new story-driven gameplay that will create stronger competition and (friendly) rivalry between Mafia families. We've also integrated more context-aware features into gameplay to boost player abilities depending on their player style and real-world locations.

Thanks to Rafael for his time.
Jon Jordan
Jon Jordan
A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon can turn his hand to anything except hand turning. He is editor-at-large at which means he can arrive anywhere in the world, acting like a slightly confused uncle looking for the way out. He likes letters, cameras, imaginary numbers and legumes.