Designing Great AR Games Part 7

Designing Great AR Games: Tips & Suggestions – Part 7

In Part 4 of my guide, I’ve talked about the importance of understanding the AR medium in order to be able to deliver unique and interesting AR experiences, not just for games but many different types of AR experiences.

Even then, considering how AR Frameworks work at the present, it’s important to works towards a game that will be worthwhile for the player to burden himself with the initial surface-scanning process, the physical effort and going outdoors which some AR games require.

There are definitely some inconveniences involved in playing AR mobile games that you don’t have in standard mobile gaming.  Some of those inconveniences will be solved in the foreseeing future, others will probably stay with us for quite some time.

One of the enjoyable things in mobile games is that you can play them while comfortably sitting on the sofa in the living room or lying on your bed. There is no much physical activity involved other than moving your little fingers on the screen.

Some developers try to make their AR games so they won’t fall far from standard mobile games. They do this my not employing surface scan, so the virtual 3D models appear in mid-air and limit the game area so the user won’t need to rotate the device or physically move in order to play the game.

There are pros and cons to each approach of course.  Having said that, if you already plan to deliver a great AR game, you actually want it to be different than playing a standard on-screen mobile game.

I remember playing some games with a secondary AR mode, like Kickerinho, AR Flip Knife, Mancala FS5 AR — I found that ins some games I preferred the non-AR version than the AR one. Why sacrifice comfortability and bother myself with finding a good surface to spawn the game when I have a more comfortable alternative to play it? Furthermore, what if I want to play the game in the dark while lying on my bed? Now I need to turn on the light and find a surface to play it on.

I am not different than your average player. The main difference is that because I review games, I might play a game longer in order to test it thoroughly, while other players if the game isn’t designed well, will just make the player uninstall your game and move on to the next game.

Bottom line is that you need to make your Augmented Reality (AR) game worth paying as an AR game. Develop a game that either can only be experienced in AR or at the minimum best experienced in AR.

I won’t get into the available gameplay mechanics that you can add, you can read about it in Part 4. This Part 7 of the guide is more a theoretical discussion that supposes to make you rethink the way you design your AR games, and make your game worthwhile playing as an AR game. Failing to do so might lead to a high uninstall rate. Players might not even get to the point where they can fully appreciate the effort and great features you put in it.

Some developers decide to deliver a hybrid app with AR being another option to play a game. I can understand that approach. It gives you the option to appeal to a wider audience and also allows players to play your game in situations (e.g. in low-light) were AR doesn’t work with or isn’t optimized for.

Having said that, I do believe that in other ways this either a risk minimizer, just a port for an already developed non-AR game or just that you haven’t come up with a “killer” idea for an AR game that you fully believe in its ability to succeed. If you have such a “killer” AR app, wouldn’t you put all your resources to make it the best it can be? I bet you would.

If you haven’t read the previous guides, I highly recommend doing so: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6.

Large-Scale Gameplay

When we play standard mobile games, we don’t really get to comprehend the real-world scale of virtual objects within the virtual scene they are present. The game is played on a relatively small screen so even if you see something that supposes to be huge, you only compare it to some other in-game character and you can comprehend the dimension differences.

In Virtual Reality, this is a common thing to create an environment or characters that impress the player with its huge scale. This is possible because the entire field of view (most of it) is obscured with virtual content. You can put a 10-floor giant squid in front of the player, and it will look to the player like a 10-floor sized squid.

The same way can be achieved in AR. The mobile device serves as a window for viewing the AR scene. You can decide that you want to place a 5-floor tall building in front of the player, and when the player views the scene through the mobile device’s display, it will appear exactly in that size.

Having a great sense of scale compared to real-world objects can have a strong impact on the gameplay experience. For example, just imagine fighting a huge 50 feet tall and 85 feet long roaring  Brachiosaurus dinosaur in the park. This would definitely be an unforgettable experience.

You probably remember that amazing mixed reality promotional video by Magic Leap, where a whale pops out from the water on the surface of a basketball court and dive back down. If you haven’t seen it, take a look. I think after watching this 9-second short video clip you’ll understand my point.

For me, this was a very memorable experience and I just saw it in a video. Just imagine how it would be like watching it with Magic Leap mixed reality headset.

Of course, since this video was first released, AR has developed significantly and now we can experience these type of large-scale experiences in many AR apps like using Vixeo ARKit app for example.

Here, take a look at those three pictures that I’ve captured using Vixeo AR Movie Maker app.

Beautiful isn’t it. Now, imagine that instead of just 3D models, animated or not, posing for the camera, you can actually fight or shoot against those monsters in that exact scale, wouldn’t it be amazing?—I bet it would.

Creating a new exciting Reality

Having virtual content that change or blend with the real world in a very interesting and unfamiliar way. Something that renders a new reality which its virtual or interaction leads to a strong emotional response from the user. It’s especially memorable where the experience is very unlikely to happen in real life. A great example of that is in the AR app Rampage: AR Unleashed.


The ability to create games with those unique mixed reality experiences, depends the user’s preference, can definitely convince the player that it’s worth getting out there and play your game.

I’ve been using Rampage: AR Unleashed in so many places and produce some really cool images and videos. A game can have an even larger impact because it’s interactive and has many more elements to keep the use entertained.

life-size AR Experiences

Sometimes developers want to deliver an authentic Augmented Reality experience that is similar to something the user experience in real life. The idea is to create a game with all the gameplay elements appearing in their life-size dimensions.

Lego train track in augmented reality
Virtual Lego train track in LEGO AR Studio game.

A few good examples of that are BMW I Visualizer (BMW showcase AR app where users can see cars in its real dimensions wherever they are). W.AR AR, an augmented reality first-person shooter game with human-size zombies and structures, same goes with ARZombi. NBA AR game, where the player can shoot hoops into a life-size basket.

That W.AR gameplay experience was so cool and encouraged me to go out to the park and give it a shot.  The game still was very much lacking in many other aspects, but at least I was encouraged to try it out.

Virtualize Equivalent Real Experiences

Another option to make your AR game attractive as an AR game is to create a game that mimics the same exact real-life toy, game or experience.

So why should you do it? Well, there are a few reasons for that. For example, the real-world equivalent experience might be too expensive, dangerous, unavailable where you leave, not safe for kids, require maintenance, require a large available space etc. Wherever, its virtual equivalent can have neither of those and can be played wherever you are, it costs fractions of the price, it’s not dangerous (although like in many AR games, keep your eyes on surrounding objects), and so on.

A good example of that type of game is AR Pool Billiards. I don’t have that space in the house to put a real pool table nor afford a good one. I’ve downloaded AR Pool Billards game and now I can play AR pool in the living room and even adjust the table size to fit the size of any room I want to play the game at.

Although playing pool in augmented reality isn’t the same experience, it was as close that I can get without having a real pool table at home and I enjoyed it.

There are many other examples, but I just wanted your mind to be set on this option when you think about designing your new AR game. It’s just one of the options, but still a viable option nonetheless.

Same goes for playing RC Club in the backyard outdoors. I would never bother creating those ramps and buy an electric car, but I do think it can be a great experience—with AR I can, and I did!

I enjoyed playing RC Club. It gave me the option to feel how it is like having a Remote-controlled car and go even further by making cool stunts with it.

Up-close and Personal Encounter with Beloved Characters or Items from Movies, TV Series, etc

I found it delightful having an option to get an up-close personal encounter with a character from a TV series, Bumblebee. Back then Transformers TV series was on the TV as an animated TV series. I remember also buying toys at the store and playing it with my neighbors.

Bumblebee in Augmented Reality
I can believe it, it’s my favorite Transformers’ character, Bumblebee!

I was so excited to actually get to see Bumblebee in my own house.  You obviously need permissions to use any familiar character, but I can assure you that many players will get excited knowing that they can actually play as one of those characters in your game. This is a completely new experience being able to hold it as a physical toy in your hand, watch it on the TV or computer screen, then seeing in in your own home in augmented reality. This is the main reason I really enjoyed toying around with Transformers: Cade\s Junkyard, same goes for Rampage: AR Unleashed (I’ve played this game as a kid on the Commodore 64 gaming console) and Lego AR Studio app.

This can definitely help when developing a game for a young age group, but it can appeal to gamers at any age group, depends on the character or item used. Some other good examples are InstaSaber (use a virtual Star Wars Lightsaber-like sword), and HAPPY! AR.

 Location-based / outdoor-based Games

The next option that you can use to make your app worthwhile as an AR app makes it location-based experience. I know, Pokémon GO immediately come to mind and it is indeed a great example of how exciting location-based AR games can be.

Pokémon GO inspired many other developers to come up with their own AR games that are inspired by it, including among others: Ingress, Zombies, Run!, The Walking Dead: Our World, Zombies Everywhere, SpecTrek, Clandestine: Anomaly, Geocaching, Real Strike, Clandestine: Anomaly, Ghostbusters: Paranormal Blast,, and many others.

Of course, just making a location-based non-AR game is far less exciting than being able to actually see virtual characters appearing in your world.

I’ve already talked about that topic in my outdoor AR games article.  I was eagerly and still am, waiting to see the next big MMORPG AR game that will make me go outside and slash some monsters with other people.

Now, I am not talking about just getting outside and shoot some monsters in a 3 meters square game area. I am talking about a game that encourages people to roam through their cities and even other cities in order to fulfill different game objectives.

Of course, the game has to be exciting, entertaining and engaging enough in order to convince people to get outside and explore the outdoor environment. I’ve seen some attempts that some developers have done, but after playing them like a few minutes, I lost interest in them. There was really nothing that really made me go out and explore the world around me, let alone walking like half a mile to just pick up some item.

Those type of location-based AR games must be social. If they are played alone, they have to be very rewarding. One good example of that is an app called Seek XR, which gives you the option to go out and capture treasure chests. Those chests give users an option to winning real rewards. A new type of pirate have emerged, app users who are hunting for those chests and the chance to win precious loot (the press release).

You can definitely check out all those apps and similar ones and be inspired how to create a new and exciting location-based augmented reality app.

Selfie-camera based AR

Another type of AR application that already proved itself is using the front-facing camera of mobile phones to create entertaining social face masks and even games.

Snapchat has implemented it beautifully and delivered a one-of-a-kind social experience that conquered the market by storm. Snapchat called it “Lenses”. Recently they enabled an option to add game-like elements to lenses, they named it “Snappables”. Snapchat opened up its system with a software called “Lens Studio”, allowing developers to create their own lenses and Snappables.

Facebook also introduced its own platform with Facebook AR Studio. It also updated its social apps, including Facebook Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp to support AR Camera Effects.

I’ve also tried another popular app called MSQRD that support live filters and face swap for video selfies. This app is super popular and immensely entertaining. You can use dozens of hilarious digital masks and the result are awe-inspiring.

This is another way to use computer vision and face recognition technologies to deliver unique and exciting AR experiences.

To be continued…

In part 7 I wanted to set your mind in a way that will make you think about how to design augmented reality games that are really worth playing as AR games.

To think about designing games that bring something new and fresh to the market by using these new technologies in interesting and exciting ways.

Designing games that will make players want to play them in AR and sometimes sacrifice some inconveniences involved in playing some of those games.

These are just a few examples of course and I’m sure that after reading this article, you will come up with even more cool ideas.

If you like my guides, please don’t forget to share them, this will really can help me stay on track and put more effort into writing them.

Guide Part 8 is coming soon, so stay tuned and thanks for reading.