What are AR portals and why do they matter? Phil Charnock wonders whether Harry Potter: Wizards Unite will fuel a desire for brands to experiment with this compelling augmented reality technique.
Pre-registration has now opened for Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. This new title from Warner Bros and Niantic – the creators of the record-decimating Pokemon Go – is likely to be released within weeks. The last time Niantic combined geo-location gaming, augmented reality and a major entertainment franchise the impact was felt across games, tech and wider society.
This time around it is the use of AR portals within Niantic’s latest offering that could herald a similar revolution. Why? Because portals are a compelling use of AR that allow you to literally step into the world of the video game. This means you get the location-specific goodness of Pokemon Go combined with the ability to move around a 3D space (almost) as you would in virtual reality. What’s not to like?
OK, let’s recap. Whether you are a fervent enthusiast of Pokemon Go or a naysayer who espouses its ‘demise’ in the years since its sensational launch, the impact made by Niantic’s smash hit is undeniable. As an agency working with augmented reality, Draw & Code have felt the impact of Niantic’s magnum opus on the industry. Suddenly we went from having to explain what augmented reality is to potential clients to finding people approaching us from all walks of life already brimming with ideas of how AR stands to be utilised in their own industries.
There are some big numbers that swirl around Pokemon Go. Over $3 billion revenue generated. More than 800 million app downloads. It reached 100 million users within a few weeks – the television took 75 years to reach that many homes!
Could Wizards Unite have the same impact? It’s tempting to say yes – Niantic have been pushing their AR and geo-location technology further in the intervening years and clearly the market for a game utilising this style of gameplay is now well and truly proven. The flip side is that Harry Potter is not as big a brand as Pokemon, by some measures at least.
Draw & Code were treated to a little insight into Wizards Unite some months ago at Niantic’s headquarters in San Francisco. At this point the game was taking shape behind closed doors but the glimpse at Niantic’s studio and how they work was enlightening. There is a lot of love going into this game. And a lot of money too.
The challenges of creating geo-location and AR games are not to be underestimated. This is a video game, aimed at the ever-sensitive family audience, that interplays with the real-world – an inherently challenging concept both technically and culturally. It’s no surprise that Wizards Unite is taking its time to emerge from the studio. For example, Niantic will want to avoid some of the negative press around inappropriate real-world locations being a part of the game this time around – and that’s going to take a lot of effort to get right.
From the point of view of an augmented reality developer, the inclusion of AR portals in Wizards Unite is getting us excited. Why? Because they are a neat way of bringing extra immersion into a mobile app. You locate a portal – known as a Portkey in Wizards Unite – and physically move inside it as you would step into a room through a door. Then, the player can spin their phone around and see the 3D world all around them. What could be more theatrical than getting you to actually step into a video game environment?
As a matter of fact, Warner Bros have already experimented with AR portals in a tie-in with a book and movie property. For the launch of Ready Player One, the entertainment giant commissioned geo-location app Snatch and Draw & Code to deliver a portal that allowed the user to step into the world of the movie. At the time this was one of the first commercial activations using this technique – expect to see a lot more after Wizards Unite launches.
How may these portals be used by other brands? Aside from games, expect to see experiential marketing and training uses of AR portals are likely to proliferate. It makes sense for place-making apps too – stepping inside a landmark location is a neat way of making the viewer feel a part of the scene.
Previously Niantic had focused on the geo-location aspect of Pokemon Go with the AR component being an ‘arbitrary’ one rather than something truly contextual or environmentally aware. This was the right approach at the time – it was before sophisticated SLAM (simultaneous localization and mapping) AR was widely available. Now with a plethora of devices able to run either Apple’s ARKit or Android’s ARCore, Niantic have deemed that ‘true’ AR features are now usable by a high proportion of users. If they’ve got their sums right, it’s a big deal for the entire industry as it will create an appetite for more advanced AR experiences.
The industry will be expecting – and will welcome – copycats. The AR portal and other similar features may be about to feature in all kinds of apps, which is good news! It’s a cracking way of engaging with a mobile immersive experience.
If you want to get ahead of Niantic and use AR portals with your brand or to see how other applications of immersive technology can work for you, the wizards at Draw & Code can bring a little XR magic to your door.