Our take on Geolocation in a mobile game – A feature not to confuse with Augmented Reality

As an enthusiast (or should I say former enthusiast) of a handful of Geolocation based games (henceforth referred to as Geoloc based games), it feels time to review how this game-changing aspect affected the mobile gaming world.

What is Geolocation in a mobile game?

For some, this might be a simple and overlooked feature to your favorite game (Pokémon Go, Jurassic World Alive, Ingress, Clash & Go, The Walking Dead: Our World, Ghostbusters World, and many many more!); while for others, this feature could have evolved to become a gaming requirement. For me, it was the latter for a while.

Geoloc is often confused with Augmented Reality (AR) and, thanks to the developer team from Ludia Games (creators of Jurassic World Alive) whom we visited last Spring, we now have a clear understanding of the difference between the two. People often assume that AR refers to any interaction between a game and the real world. While it is true, to some extent, AR (roughly summarized) actually refers to an experience where the objects in the real world are visually (auditory, haptic, etc.) augmented through technology. The image below clearly shows what it refers to, the inclusion of a virtual world (a Pokémon in this case) into the real world.

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Geoloc, on the other hand, refers to the involvement of real-time locations and built-in GPS [within a mobile game]. It means that your mobile game would require you to physically move to various locations in order to accomplish different goals and objectives. Game developers will often have quests, items, loots, etc. vary from the various location in a given area. For example, one could be able to find a specific type of item only in a specific zone such as parks or churches; hence forcing players to get out of their comfort zone if they want to pursue the game’s goals and objectives. These locations will more often than not rely on points of interests (sculptures, historical buildings, etc.).

Socializing and discovering – The upside of Geoloc in a mobile game

The main appeal from implementing Geoloc in a mobile game is that it allows players to discover new areas in their own hometown or on a trip to any. I admit, I did discover a few nice areas in my hometown that I did not know about thanks to Pokémon Go. Although this is probably not what you would think developers would be interested in, it does allow for some more than decent revenue potential. For example, allowing sponsored locations in your game; it can certainly attract businesses to invest in order to have their own business appear in the game, and therefore attract people there for example. Starbucks is very famous in Pokémon Go, and it’s not because of their coffee.

That being said, the most interesting aspect of Geoloc in a mobile game, from a player perspective, is that a lot of the related content relies on socialization. Players, in some cases, must join forces to defeat a “big boss” (as I like to tell my girlfriend to simplify what it actually is in the game) or complete a given quest; they interact together to trade items, objects, etc.; they gather together to compare their collection, etc. Implementation of Geoloc in a mobile game forces people to leave the comfort of their home to come together and share many things about a game they are all passionate about, which they would normally do remotely, but with Geoloc they now can combine discovery of new areas with actual interactions with other game enthusiasts.

In my local community, Pokémon Go allowed the creation of a community that gathers over 600 people online, and about a hundred people once a month for the monthly in-game event known as Community Day. It really is incredible to witness. People (adults and children) interact together, share about their latest regional exclusive findings, make in-game trades of Pokémon they caught all over the globe, join forces to defeat a Raid Boss at a nearby fountain, battle against each other, etc. Simple things they would have never done if they were only playing the main series game of Pokémon.

Limitation and exhaustion – The downside of Geoloc in a mobile game

Despite the fact that Geoloc undoubtedly increases the game experience from a mobile game, it also has its unfortunate flaws. Its biggest flaw (although many game developers have been working relentlessly to fix this issue) relates to limitation. In this particular case, limitation refers to three issues.

  • Physical
    • Some people simply cannot physically move as the game would require them to. Whether it’s a temporary or permanent condition, mobility is unfortunately not an easy and simple task. While the game developers indicated that there are other games that would better fit their needs, it sometimes makes it difficult to do so when so many people around you are enjoying the same game, while you can’t in the same ways as them.
  • Rural
    • As stated before, most of these games’ Geoloc features are reliant on points of interests (parks, statues, theaters, murals, etc.) to operate. If you’re living downtown of a lively city, chances are that you do not understand that struggle that people playing in rural areas face. Downtown, points of interests are pouring! In rural areas, where the nearest church sometimes is a 20 minutes car drive away and the nearest town center is 45 minutes away, it simply isn’t the same experience. The reality is very much different, and as a result, so is the game experience.
  • Finance and time
    • As much as one would hope that people playing these games rely strictly on walking, the reality is, once again, very much different. Considering that one must travel to various areas in a given hometown to fully enjoy the game, the truth is that traveling often involves driving or using the public transport; and sadly, these are not always cheap. Furthermore, while regular games simply require you to turn on the tv/monitor and PC/console, mobile games relying on Geoloc are often much more time-consuming as they require traveling to various locations, hence time. If you are planning on playing for about 30 minutes, and you’re living about 10-15 minutes from an area where it would be interesting/worth to play in, you often have to reconsider actually playing altogether.

In the end, facing these three limitations on a regular basis often leads to something else: exhaustion; which is what myself, along with several other people playing games relying on Geoloc, are experiencing in the past few months. These game are ultimately very demanding (not necessarily physically speaking) and time-consuming. If your reality doesn’t allow for half a day worth of gaming, but rather bits and pieces throughout the day, chances are that if you play mobile games relying on Geoloc will drain you. At this stage, the question you need to ask you is: Is it really worth it? The answer sadly often is no.

Sidenote 1: Of course, many game developers (such as Jurassic World Alive from Ludia) have a different vision of Geoloc and instead of relying of points of interests will rather use various algorithms to ensure that things are fairly spread out over the map so that rural players can have a very similar gaming experience as any other players. These games are often less demanding and, in the end, are much more worth your time.

Sidenote 2: Furthermore, most game developers using Geoloc as a primary feature of their mobile game will also rely on a secondary feature that would allow players to play a portion of the game from their couch. For example, Jurassic World Alive and Pokémon Go (as of recently) offer users the option of battling other players without leaving the comfort of their home. That being said, they won’t make it very far should they decide to strictly play the game from their home given that their creatures used in battle will most likely be of lower levels than the ones used by those exploiting Geoloc to its full potential.

Parting Words

In short, Geoloc in a mobile game can be extremely exciting, but it can also become incredibly exhausting, especially when the game relies almost exclusively on that aspect. Understandably, Pokémon Go‘s almost exclusive Geoloc aspect of the game can be defended by the fact that The Pokemon Company also has a variety of other games available that do not rely on Geoloc. The fact remains that games depending on that aspect have an expiration date and are required to offer consistent in-game events and new features to keep the going out of the house and moving around town aspect worth it and keep its playerbase entertained on a regular basis.

For me, Geoloc quickly became tiring. On the other hand, interacting with others socially never really was an issue, while for others, the situation can differ. Many people were finally able to get out and meet other people who shared similar interests thanks to these games. Therefore for me, the main appeal of these games, which relies on the social aspect, was not a requirement and never became one. Don’t get me wrong, I am very thankful and happy for the friends I made thanks to these games. These friendships simply grew beyond the realm of these games.

At the end of the day, most games will offer certain in-game features that won’t require the players to leave the house, or at least too frequently. Sadly, it’s not always enough.

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