Pokémon Go: Did AR Just Leapfrog VR?

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It was actually known for quite some time that Pokémon Go was on the way. But no one seemed to be ready for what that would entail. As if we’d all forgotten what a sensation the original Pokémon games were, or how much of a devoted following Nintendo still has, we thought Pokémon Go would simply be a fun and popular mobile game. We now know it as a worldwide sensation generating countless headlines every day, and it was distinguished as the most popular mobile game of all time. As we reported before, it made $200 million in its first month.

But the most interesting thing about Pokémon Go ultimately might not be its staggering popularity or the fact that to some extent it seems to have revived Nintendo. Rather, it it may be that this is the game that has started an AR revolution. For those who may be unfamiliar with that term, “AR” refers to augmented reality. It is slightly different than “VR” (virtual reality). In augmented reality, the screen you’re looking at shows what’s actually in front of you in the real world, only with game character or other elements injected. So, when you look through your phone at the chair you’re resting your feet on and a wild Psyduck hops onto it, you’re experiencing AR.

Until this point, AR has been viewed by most as something like VR’s less interesting little brother. To be clear, there are existing AR experiences played through VR headsets, inviting various gaming elements into living rooms, basements and the like. But the bulk of the attention surrounding the rise of VR headsets has been on fully immersive experiences that take you out of your environment and drop you into a gaming world. It’s understandable why this sounds like the more exciting concept, but Pokémon Go has proven the potential of AR. It may be that in the months and years ahead we’ll see more of a focus on the development of creative AR concepts.

One area in which the idea of further AR exploration makes a great deal of sense is in table and casino gaming. The leading casino game on VR headsets actually embraces a full VR environment. But given the rising popularity of other casino games online, a simplified AR game bringing them all into the fold feels inevitable. Free bingo rooms online have popularized a game amongst a younger demographic, and the use of themed games and live dealers has further spiced up the concept. Similarly, games like roulette and blackjack have been given new life by creative online concepts. An AR casino game would put all of these games right in front of players in their living rooms, with a real setting and table but perhaps animated dealers or opponents who appear to be right there with you. A game like this could be wonderful without really requiring the environmental design of a VR effort.

Another genre in which AR has a lot of natural potential is the first-person shooter. These games are among the most beloved out there on most any platform. So it stands to reason that they should be a focal point for VR and AR developers. So, imagine something along the lines of Pokémon Go in which you actually wanted to take down (rather than capture) creatures attacking you. That’s basically what it could be like. There’s already been one fascinating demo of a steampunk-style AR shooter that could be coming soon, and a few simpler games involving aliens or dangerous bugs invading your space have surfaced as well. There’s a lot to be done with the idea of shooting evil villains or creatures that look like they’re actually wandering into your home.

Then again, we might also start to see more AR experiences more closely related to Pokémon Go, in that they could simply thrive through mobile phones without requiring VR headsets or other advanced equipment. For instance, the idea of “Harry Potter Go” has been circulating online pretty much since Pokémon Go first came out, and though right now it seems like little more than an idea, it could be a sign of things to come. While not every gaming studio or company has a foundation of characters like Pokémon to build on, it’s easy to see other franchises or brands jumping on the “Go” bandwagon and producing similar experiences.

To be clear, nothing is going to stop the rise or expansion of VR as a new mode of home gaming. But with Pokémon Go, the world has become exposed to the unique thrills of AR as well. And it could be that this format will be every bit as popular as its counterpart.