Just finished watching a gameplay video by The Verge, showing a 4-player multiplayer AR game that was demoed at WWDC 2018. This game is called Swift Shot, a local multiplayer augmented reality game developed by Apple. This video leads me to read more about the new multi-user features introduced with ARKit 2.0 and open up a discussion about what exciting about those new features and their pros and cons.
Of course, I want to hear what you, developers, think about the multiplayer AR features in ARKit 2.0. You can do so by leaving your opinions in the comment section below. Thank you.
New and Exciting AR Gameplay Experiences
This video shows how fun multiplayer AR games can be and what makes them stand out from the rest. You know, when you play a regular multiplayer mobile game on Android or iOS, whether local or online, the experience is seen on screen without any view of the real world and compared to AR, it feels more isolated.
Here is another video showing the same game, captured by VentureBeat.
With Augmented Reality, the game area is now shared among the local players who play the game together. This immediately evokes memories of me playing physical games with my family and niece when they come to visit. I love when we do that. It’s such a fun and social bonding experience that you don’t get to have with standard mobile games, at least not when each one plays the game on its own device.
Playing a game on the same device might give quite similar experience, but this is quite uncomfortable to be completely honest. Of course, this new ARKit 2.0 shared experience feature isn’t just for games, but I have no doubt that many of those shared experiences will be games.
In that game that was demonstrated, it seems Apple was inspired by Angry Birds. Everything in this game look and felt so new and refreshing, starting with the level the exciting level design that was designed for up to 4-players, the beautiful “Victory” notification using blocks that fall down from the top, seeing how players physically move around the space to get a good angle before shooting, and more. This game was designed from the ground up to showcase the fundamental differences which make an AR game different compared to any other type of game.
You just don’t get to play a game like that, not at this scale at least, unless you are at a special arcade place. Even then, this is just a single demonstration that will inspire developers to start developing new types of multiplayer gameplay experiences.
Just imagine a tower defense or a puzzler being played as a shared experience. This is going to be a completely new experience for mobile users, something that they haven’t experienced before. Furthermore, because everything in the game is virtual, developers can come up with amazing ideas that will completely revolutionize the local multi-user gameplay experience. I can definitely see many new games aimed at kids, maybe some of them digitizing already popular existing physical games.
In fact, LEGO already demoed such an experience at WWDC18. In their multi-user app, players can deploy structures, characters, and objects which are shared together in the same real-world location. Obviously, the idea is to help this app to improve sales of its physical Lego toys, so it actually combined the physical and the virtual together to create a unique gameplay experience. Physical LEGO pieces aren’t going anywhere because they offer a more accessible way for children to interact with the toy without the need for a mobile device and the interaction with the pieces itself is physical with no need for AR glasses or haptic feedback powered gloves.
In fact, the best ARKit 2.0 multiplayer games are yet to be developed. I’m sure developers are looking at those demos and their mind start working at full capacity. Obviously one needs to think which market to target first and what type of games are best for it.
We need to consider the fact that not everyone has the option to play a local multiplayer AR game with another person who has an ARKit compatible device, let alone enjoying the same experience and it wants to play at the exact time and location where you are. This is why I imagine we will see local multiplayer AR games that actually encourage outdoor or on-location meetups. For that to open, the AR experience will have to be worthwhile. I personally would be delightful to have an option to get out and socialize with people while enjoying a great AR game together. I find it more likely to happen than finding someone who will play a local multiplayer AR game with me. Having said that, I can definitely see myself enjoying playing such games in a family gathering or when my niece come to visit.
These restrictions actually lead me to talk about another topic, which is cross-platform support.
Unlike ARCore’s Cloud Anchors, which supports multi-user across Android and iOS, ARKit 2.0 AR Multiplayer feature isn’t cross-platform, at least from any information I was able to gather. There are already AR frameworks for iOS that do support it, like Wikitude which with its SDK 8 of its AR platform now supporting this feature.
Having cross-platform support actually increases the chances that you’ll found someone to play with locally, and further promote bigger player base for a game, which as you know, it’s essential for multiplayer games. It’s even more important for local multiplayer games, as you can’t fake/simulate a real player where it actually in front of you 🙂
Apple might introduce cross-platform support in the future, but right now it doesn’t. Maybe the best thing is to rely on a 3rd party cross-platform AR Cloud solution to deliver a multi-user AR experience or use Cloud Anchors. Some believe that an ARKit 2.0 Multi-user experiences will be more optimized and smooth running on the same platform, but until I try it myself, I can’t really say much.
Developers definitely have a rare option here to become early adopters of this new AR multiplayer features and deliver exciting and brand new gameplay experiences. There are plenty of current AR games that can benefit from this as well, and I think that many iOS developers have been waiting for Apple to introduce this feature before implementing a local multiplayer feature in their already released games.
For myself, I do hope that I will get an option to play an amazing multiplayer AR game that will make me get excited meeting up with people on-location every week and play together. If that happens, this technology will do something more wonderful in the gaming community that very few technologies have done.
Now, if you don’t mind, I need to clear my mind and start thinking about some great ideas for AR multiplayer games. I will share some of them with you in future posts to help push this feature strong forward and inspire some developers with interesting gameplay concept ideas.