Five IPs that could tackle ARG gameplay features Pokemon Go lacks
Following the news that Niantic is not in fact working on a Harry Potter AR game, I realized that even as someone who enjoyed the first three books and most of the latter movies, I don’t think the Wizarding World would quite work well as an AR game. Though I’m spending far too much time with it at the moment, I know Pokemon Go would be a textbook example of what not to do with a game if it weren’t for its IP power. The thing is, Pokemon works on several levels: It’s something people grew up with and played together. It has a very international world. And sure, maybe the Harry Potter Go story was believable because it was a big IP with “Go” attached to the end, but realistically, I could barely imagine the game.
There are other implementations, however, that I cannot not only imagine but crave.
MOP’s MJ tackled this topic once before and focused on two MMO IPs — The Secret World and EverQuest/Landmark — and how they could tie ARGs back to themselves, something that even Nintendo hasn’t shown signs of doing (they can’t even manage to ship their accessories on time). So instead, I want to focus on older, everyday-life, internationalized IPs, and I’ve got a few ideas I’m willing to give away to any big CEOs that may happen to visit our site, free of charge!
I’ve played only demos of this series, but even I know the player is a kind of alternate-reality time traveler. Working this into historical locations to fight over would be too easy: Replace catching with battling and level your player up just fine. Most people would eat it up.
But what if we could tweak different historical periods? Start with periods and eras covered by the main series and slowly add more. Maybe visiting a certain kind of location allows access to a certain period (say, the Statue of Liberty leading to post Civil-War America). If you traveled to Japan’s Toei Studio Park in Kyoto, you’d have access to Edo period Japan. Levels would be separate for various periods but you’d have access to some carry over power. Museums would help give access different eras, with or without their help (but really, what museum wouldn’t want the opportunity to lure gamer wallets into their hallowed halls?).
Assassin’s Creed is what I’d call a gamer’s game. While the looks attract a broad audience, the gameplay tends to have limited appeal to non-gamers. As someone who tries to bring people into our hobby, I just haven’t seen the appeal. But maybe mobile action gameplay would make it more inviting, especially in Asia. Add in a game currency that can be bought for real-life money for cosmetic customization and you’ve got a good source of income!
Winnie the Pooh
Didn’t see this one coming, did you? But think about it: Christopher Robin’s just a kid with his toys in his backyard. This one shouldn’t be too hard to monetize if you just make “Hundred Acre Woods, Go!” plushies, and it has pretty broad appeal. We don’t all need to be Christopher Robin or have Winnie the Pooh, either.
Imagine using your camera to “assemble” your toy companion. Just take pictures of the face, arms, and legs of a toy (assuming it’s got four legs or two legs), then the AR manipulates the pieces into a paper-doll guide reacting to your different actions, maybe adding angry symbols or tears as needed. Anything from your old teddy to your recent Batman figure would do, or you could make something weird like a sausage-ham imaginary friend.
Christopher Robin never goes out to kill bad guys, and neither would you. Players would establish their own Hundred Acre Woods by working together, voting up local hang outs to gain “bonding” points to level up and eventually rename. Bonding points would be how to level up, and every so many levels would allow you to create another toy avatar. However, they’d need to choose defenders against “reality,” growing up and seeing games for what they are. Toys would simply stand against some sort of reality inducing force, and a higher bonding level would let them last longer. Every so many hours, perhaps, a location would “decay” without “toys” around to defend it. It ensures that the community actually creates real world locations where they gather, without asking them to constantly look at their phone while walking. Fun for all ages, though Killers might avoid it.
Time to get weird! I know we have a few Earthbound/Mother 2 fans here aside from myself, but for those who don’t know, the series is a JRPG based on modern life. You fight with baseball bats, teddy bears, and psychic powers. Enemies are hippies and possessed taxis and that alien your grandparents secretly raised and stole technology from. You have a mom who is always home and a dad who’s always stuck at work. You find out you have powers and travel from town to town or even a new country. You explore museums, sewers, and a village of head-shaped aliens enslaved by sentient puke. While it’s no Pokemon, I’ve had strangers in the States and Japan alike come up and talk to me if I wear anything that shows I’m an Earthbound fan, even if they haven’t played the game, thanks to one character being in every Smash Bros game made to date.
How does this translate to AR? Easily. Rather than just have random places to visit and random encounters, perhaps allow players to choose real people as their “party” members and/or family as a focus. Being near either allows access to different tools, like party members being able to trade battle items and parents cooking consumables and giving allowance, all from a free daily reserve that can only be shared, not used by the family members for themselves. You’d choose your family and roles, so no need to worry about traditional gender roles being enforced.
Rather than constantly going to new areas, the battle system should encourage going to the same one(s) and “absorbing” their power, a la Earthbound’s Your Sanctuary/Your Place theme. Fighting at your place with friends would help you level faster. Maybe you choose a local restaurant, your school, and your house. You level faster in those places. If other folks pick the same place, maybe you can interact with them as party members too, encouraging more use of public space that hopefully won’t clog walking paths.
However, the bigger “Your Sanctuary” is, the bigger the threat it’ll attract. Enemies should be able to take over and “corrupt” sanctuaries, though big attacks should happen when people are detected in the same place. You still get that pokemon “Mewtwo” feeling, but it’d save your favorite salad bar instead of putting a mutant hairless cat in a digital ball-prison. As in some other Nintendo free to play games, you could, for example, pay flat fees to unlock certain permanent bonuses pay-to-win-style, but with a hardcap that ensures that people actually pay for a more robust game experience than bottomless consumables that nickle-and-dime you.
Asheron’s Call (3?)
Dear Turbine/Time Warner,
You’re a mobile company now. Fine. I get it. So make Asheron’s Call in an AR game. It doesn’t have the same appeal as Pokemon, but most hardcore MMO players have at least heard of it. Hell, in my hometown, we saw a lot of EverQuest people jump in mostly because of events. AC could do the same thing again, especially now that MMOs are more well-known and Time Warner could, you know, advertise.
Remember, the original series was about being transported to a different world with different earth-based cultures that were reflected or mutated in Dereth, from the goblin-like drudges to the living shadow people. The same could be done with AR. Let people build their own towns. Players maybe first fight to clear a space and buy rights to land from a faction (the balanced Order, rule-driven Dominion, and chaotic Shadow, as in AC2). Then Turbine can add, say, training grounds to make skill gains faster, blacksmiths to make crafting easier, maybe even clan housing.
Players could choose “jobs” (vendors let other players near you sell useless items, crafters can make some items, soldiers get a boost for fighting in their town, etc.), so you could not only have simple action fighting but level through trade or crafting. Then allow people to build “portals” such that people can attack/defend locations with a single “life” from anywhere. Dying would put you back at your current real world location, your “lifestone.”
Then add events. Monthly ones (like the old days!) could be fun, like masks dropping from mobs in October or introducing new enemy types with a new mechanic. There could be others based on other factors — for example, if one faction is outnumbered by two others, it’d suddenly have triple the power. Maybe a disease breaks out and the factions have to work together and visit different towns to trade for local supplies to find ingredients and invent a cure.
An actual AR MMO on a small IP may work because MMOs are social. AC was an early MMORPG that helped open people up to the genre. We’re older and may have more connections, or even kids to coerce into gameplay, but something slightly more mature without being “adult” works. Maybe allow people to buy extra bag space or social tools, like town building boosts. In some ways, Ingress and PGO have these as a simple system, so it’s not impossible at all.
Time to bring out the big guns. I’ve talked to little girls and amateur weight lifters who heart melt over Animal Crossing. There’s no need to fight with this game! Set up your house anywhere, find friends (real humans but also anthropomorphic animals), trade items and villagers, but in the real world. Trading with real friends in meat space would maybe give a history of animal or object, like meeting a skunk at your local ice skating rink or finding a Regal Chest at your local park.
But let’s go deeper. Nintendo has deep pockets and ambition. This is a company that brings people together. So maybe add something more unique: real-life postcards. Maybe people buy a peripheral for the game that has a bluetooth connection for phones. You can a special Nintendo brand postcard for the game that has a special chip, add an item digitally, and stamp it with your current location. The card can be read one time and award that item, but also other items depending on how far it traveled. For example, maybe I send my friend a coconut to plant outside her house in Africa, but from Japan, it multiplies into five coconuts. Put a hard cap on this, maybe five cards or so per month. Not only could you get people moving around as in PGO, but get people to make pen pals in meat space again. I mean, really, Japanese people do this still, but I rarely get physical cards from anyone other than my mother now. It could be fun and profitable for everyone!
ARG are not new, just what’s hot. Much like MMOs in the old days, the first games feel great because they have fresh ideas, but they are actually pretty rough. Like World of Warcraft, it’s taken a big name IP to help propel the genre forward, and obviously there will be imitators. Simply cloning the original will fail. However, focusing on an IP’s strengths and how it can add something new (or missed) can not only help the genre but be profitable, which is also something WoW did right.