Nintendo, Google & The Pokémon Company invest $20 million in augmented reality gaming

Niantic, the developer of Ingress and the upcoming Pokémon GO, has announced that it raised its Series A financing round, totaling an initial investment of $20 million and a further $10 million promised upon meeting agreed goals, from Google as well as gaming giant Nintendo and The Pokémon Company. The development studio is known for putting gaming into the real world; Ingress tasks players with physically traveling to locations in order to take control of them. Pokémon GO similarly showed trainers gathering together in New York’s Times Square in its announcement trailer to take part in a massive battle against a legendary Pokémon.

The involvement of Google may come as little surprise, considering that Niantic is headed by John Hanke who was one of the creators of Google Earth. Some may remember 2014’s April Fools joke which added a “Pokémon Challenge” to Google Maps. GO‘s logo bears a striking resemblance to the prank as well.

Fans of the Pokémon franchise should be happy to hear that the company tasked with bringing the monsters to our world seems to be well funded. This will be a drastic departure from the series’ previous games and allow trainers to interact in new ways with beloved characters. It’s clear that corporate knows expectations are high and Nintendo is also committed to develop new technologies, which may even appear in other franchises down the road.

Let us know in the comments what Pokémon you’d like to catch first in GO!

How does spending $100 on an IAP feel? Disappointing & hollow says this author

There mornings when you wake up, groggily recall what you did the night before and realize you fucked up. Sometimes this comes in the form of a poorly chosen hook-up, other times you rush to the toilet because you imbibed far too much alcohol. Or you’re me and wake up with a $99.99 iTunes charge for an in-app purchase in Game of War.

Many games that offer such large IAPs are advertised as “free-to-play”. My own interpretation of F2P has always been free-to-pay, because gaming today has morphed into an industry in which consumers are always able to spend if they want to. And believe me, they’ll want to. There’s a reason Game of War developer Machine Zone Inc. is valued at $6 billion. They’ve figured out exactly how to prod gamers into purchasing items and top players never get where they are for free. Their “trade secrets” on the best way to milk gamers even sparked litigation when a developer from a competing company claimed to have seen an investment pitch.

wow-celestial-steedThe success of “F2P” games has also led paid games to even offer ways to buy currency, speed-ups, cosmetic items, or other trinkets. The first cash shop pets and mount in mega-popular MMORPG World of Warcraft (which was seeing better days five years ago) sparked a huge debate about the ethics of charging for a game, the expansions and a monthly subscription, but still gating some items behind more purchases even after spending all that money.

PC and console games… OK. I can understand the allure. Items in titles that you’re heavily invested in which feature rich, detailed worlds and engaging game mechanics aren’t too hard to forgive. Maybe not $20k like this Redditor claims to have spent in ArcheAge, but a reasonable amount, sure.

gow-worst-purchase-everBut when offered with $100 purchases in a mobile game (I’m not saying that disparagingly, but the hardware doesn’t allow for as much depth) you have to wonder who would ever spend that much?! I’ve already shamefully owned up to my purchase and it does not make me proud to admit the amount I spent. It should be noted that I was in a more susceptible state, because I was in bed on prescription sleeping medicine, but the psychological hooks that led to my downfall were already in place long ago. Tons of chests containing random parts for crafting, double the premium currency, 3 years of speed-ups(!) was just too enticing to resist. Yes, that last part is correct and yes, some research takes half a year or MORE without boosts.

I’m writing this as a public walk of shame, cautionary tale and hopefully a stark look at what the industry has become and where it is deriving profit. There is charging for great content, then there is charging to be able to skip artificial barriers so large that make forking over a  Benjamin seems somehow logical. Oh, and this was a thank you sale. Thanks customers: a special new $100 collection of goodies from your friends at Machine Zone.

There are people who are spending a lot more than me. There are people who will continue to spend in free-to-pay games. Luckily others are dissatisfied and some may just need a sharp reminder that there are better things to do with money. Hopefully this sharp rap on the knuckles for me might save you a few bucks down the line. It just isn’t worth it.

GPS, GO and the Future of Pokémon

Pokémon GO came to us out of nowhere. Fans didn’t ask for it and no one had any idea the mobile game existed until it was announced, but that doesn’t stop it from (possibly) becoming the future of the Pokémon series.

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THE GAME POKÉMON FANS DESERVE

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In every mainline series Pokémon game to date the player has taken control of a character who journeys about catching, battling and training Pokémon. That is as close as fans have ever gotten to becoming a real Pokémon Trainer. Pokémon GO could change that.
Using GPS technology is nothing new to gaming, there are numerous great examples of how developers can use the navigation system to add depth to their games, or even use it to become the basis of an entire game. One instance of an excellent application of GPS comes from Six to Start’s Zombies. Run! in which players must run (or walk) to escape zombies (as if you couldn’t figure that out) and collect supplies along the way.

Introducing GPS to the Pokémon series is an entirely new concept and up until now the closest we’ve got to location-based interaction in Pokémon is the StreetPass feature in Pokémon X and Omega Ruby Alpha Sapphire, the most significant feature of which was the ability to unlock locations that contained hidden Pokémon by passing by people with your 3DS. So, why could a location-based Pokémon game become the future of the series?

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BE THE TRAINER

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Without beating around the bush: Pokémon GO might let you become a Pokémon Trainer. The Trainer you’ve always wanted to be but never quite could, because you were simply playing a game.

Pokémon GO will play differently for everyone depending on where you are and the time you’re there. You will have to be in the real world vicinity of a wild Pokémon to find it, meaning, utilising the GPS of your mobile device, you (the Trainer) have to physically drag yourself through all terrains to find a Charizard lurking atop a mountain, or an Eevee hiding in a backstreet dumpster. Species of Pokémon have always been limited to specific areas within the games. In Pokémon Red & Blue for example, Pikachu can only be found on Viridian Forest or within the Power Plant. If you want to capture a Pokémon you have to situate yourself in an appropriate patch of grass and pace up and down for what could be hours. In GO it’s not going to be you characters tickling their knees amongst the grass, it’s going to be you.

The utilisation of location technology doesn’t end there; with it, Trainers could find themselves battling against other Trainers riding the same train to work as them, or against the manager at McDonald’s, and that’s where things start to get interesting. By making us, the player, the main character in our journey we can choose what routes we take, what Pokémon we capture and train, and what our goals and aspirations are in this new Pokémon World. If you want to become the Pokémon kingpin in your university accommodation, you can do that. The possibilities are almost limitless.

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GET SOCIAL

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With GO the series is going to take on an entirely new social aspect, while maintaining the core pillars that make up the Pokémon franchise. Pokémon will still exist as it does today, but future games are likely to be tainted with elements requiring the upcoming game as already suggested by official sources.

New forms of the Pokémon Zygarde were recently announced, what’s interesting about these forms is their requirement for numerous forms known as Zygarde Cell, hidden throughout an area, to cluster together in order for the Pokémon to access a more powerful form. This ‘collect-a-thon’ mechanic almost screams to be made into a social event, and this is perhaps exactly what we can expect to see in GO. The official trailer for the game has showed off a battle against Mewtwo in Times Square, which required hundreds of Trainers to group together to take down the Pokémon before the timer ran out. We already know this type of event is planned for the game.

There are of course almost infinite new possibilities when you add location-based mechanics to a series that already focuses on different locations within its games, too many to list. Using one common form of technology can completely transform how we play a game and it seems the Pokémon series is one just screaming for this transformation.

On the other hand this called all just end up one huge dream and Pokémon GO might not end up being the foundation for the future of the Pokémon series after all.

Gameloft’s Game of War clone just isn’t doing it for me

I love me some Game of War: Fire Age, both for the strategic elements and social aspects, and I enjoy trying out similar games on my iPhone and iPad. There have been a hundred and one Clash of Clans-style titles released on the App Store (which feature a battle style with user interaction), but not so many games which feature the more hands-off approach of Machine Zone’s profit-generating behemoth.

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Not surprisingly, when I saw Gameloft’s new title, March of Empires (iOS/Android/Windows), I was more than willing to give it a try. The initial tutorial is much the same as any other game in this genre, the early levels let you build quite quickly while everything is still under the 5 minutes of “free” time you get and it just requires a lot of tapping. The true appeal lies in the later stages in which you choose where to spend points in your hero’s skill tree, what armor you equip him or her with, how you construct your army, etc. Many people complain that these are “spreadsheet” games which essentially make gamers track minute stat gains or optimize for fractions of a percent in increased power and I’m not going to try to disagree. It isn’t a game type that will appeal to everyone.

The glorious hive
The glorious hive

While Gameloft’s usual polish was nice, and the graphics appear much more modern than GoW, there just doesn’t seem to be as much depth. The skill trees available are much more level-gated and the second set that I’m working on didn’t unlock until my academy was at level 10. That took two weeks of semi-frequent babysitting of the game and the second week was spent doing no research since I had completed the first set quite quickly. Time is money in these games and while I’m sleeping I want to have an 8 hour timer ticking down. It felt seriously wasteful to have my research bar sitting empty, something that has never happened to me in Game of War.

At first the game didn’t offer a “sale” upon opening the app and I thought perhaps this non-intrusive approach would be an altruistic move on the part of Gameloft to generate goodwill from gamers, but a few days in they updated the app and now I’m tempted with deals ranging from $4.99 to $99.99. Upon finishing the tutorial you’re also offered a five dollar pack and I did buy it. Why? Strictly for research (maybe). Really I was just curious how much of an advantage it would give me. Game of War regularly includes permanent access to their “premium” version of the dungeon, which is basically a re-skinned casino wheel that gives prizes, but there was no impressive account unlock in March of Empires.

Overall it just hasn’t felt too deep and one of the more unique elements, the ability to position troops in battle, is not explained in any depth at all so without doing some online research on my own time it won’t be something I utilize. Luckily I’ve been able to be active in a Japanese alliance which is currently the third strongest on our server (I’m assuming that there is, or will be more servers) and my own empire is within the top 1,000 last time I checked. I’ll keep plugging away, but so far it hasn’t impressed.

Why the new Apple TV will not kill your Xbox or PlayStation

A report has recently appeared online that suggests Apple is going to reveal an all-new Apple TV at their event on September 8th, next week. It’s commonplace to find journalists predicting that “Product X will kill Product Y” close to their announcements and this new Apple TV is no different.

The suggestion that Apple’s new device can compete with (and possibly kill!) dedicated games consoles, is simply ludicrous. Even more ludicrous? That very same claim backed up with a mere run down of specs, features and possible scenarios of uses for the device.

The point is: an updated Apple TV simply cannot compete with the PlayStation 3 or the Xbox 360 (or even their successors.) Raw power, gimmick-loaded controllers that feature motion detecting sensors and Siri-laced experiences are simply not enough to pit the Apple TV—if it even happens—against the PlayStation and Xbox of yesteryear.

There’s no denying that the mobile gaming scene has grown tenfold year after year since the original iPhone launched. The mobile market is saturated with devices that allow individuals to play games almost anywhere imaginable and that is precisely how developers of mobile games design their games: to be playable on-the-go and to allow players to drop the game and pick it up again whenever the mood strikes them. Mobile gaming, for the most part, does not hold the same core of gamers as console gaming does. Console games are often developed with a “sit down and play” ethos, that is: 90% of the time gamers will indulge in gaming sessions that run for an hour or more. That isn’t to say that there aren’t any games on Android or iOS that are developed with longer play sessions in mind, that statement would be almost as absurd as claiming one single device can eradicate two long standing “competitors”.

The growth of mobile gaming shouldn’t be seen seen as the oncoming death of the console. Instead we should welcome it as the growth of the gaming industry as a whole. What works on a mobile game doesn’t necessarily work on a console game and this is where the Apple TV could make a difference. By acting not only as an alternative to both the console and mobile scenes the device

It has been seven years since Apple first unleashed Apple TV to the world. The streaming box of wonder (oh, if only) was launched in a time when the world of internet-powered television was a very, very different place. That fact alone is more than enough reason question Apple’s decision to deprive the device of any substantial updates over the last three years. The same can’t be said for almost every other Apple product that exists on the Apple Store today.

Sadly, the truth is the Apple TV has become somewhat of a joke. The device has become inferior when compared to other offerings in the market place, ones that can offer the same functionality for less. Consoles such as the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 existed primarily as gaming consoles, their entertainment features could be seen as side dishes that taste delicious. Apple needs to serve its dishes in the right order. First and foremost Apple TV should provide a way for users to get content from the internet or other devices to their television. Gaming should be served as a side dish, where Apple TV can shine as a cocktail blended from the experiences of both the mobile and console gaming.

Apple TV will never “kill” the offerings of Sony and Microsoft, that is an absurd statement. Instead the new device, if it actually exists, will serve as an alternative to the other options available to all of us. Another way to game. Offering the best of mobile gaming thanks to Apple’s account system and the best of console gaming thanks to the hardware it is said to offer.

Technology products offer a huge amount of variation, even within the smallest, most niche categories. It is foolish to believe that one product, designed for a market of specific individuals can provide for the needs and wants of all. It is impossible. The new Apple TV will be an option, one that many will choose and one that many will ignore.