Augmented Reality is a Massively Multiplayer Online world

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I’ve said this before, but in the wake of the viral success of Pokémon GO, it needs to be said again. Augmented reality is just a virtual world, an MMO, a MUD even, with all of the same design issues, plus a few new ones.


Not long ago, I spoke with a very high-powered Silicon Valley exec. I asked this person about the ethical implications of social VR and AR. Their response was “what ethical implications?”

Not a surprise. Hell, ask politicians about the ethical implications of something and they’ll often look at you blankly, and they’re theoretically supposed to consider them. Business execs at least have a vague excuse.

(Terrific article, thanks. I was involved in a group designing a social AR game some years ago and we broke up partly over the ethical discussions; I was on the side that couldn’t see how they could be handled elegantly and that until they could we probably shouldn’t continue. In the interim, I haven’t seen any evidence that those problems have been solved - this piece reinforces my belief.)


I don’t hold with that new-fangled “augmented reality” bullshit. If I want to see shit that’s not there, I do it the way my forefathers did before me, with drugs.


My daughter and I where wondering what it must be like to live in a local house that was surreptitiously designated as a gym due to a particularly goofy lawn ornament.

In other news, I am going to push for the library I work at to set off 16 lures next Saturday to get people into the branch throughout the day. I am 100% confident this is an awesome idea.


At first I thought I was reading the long build-up to a joke that un-augmented reality is a massively multiplayer world.

More seriously: one interpretation of Pokemon Go’s success is that it has less to do with AR and more to do with the power of the Pokemon brand. It’s argued pretty well here. But I suppose it doesn’t really matter why an AR game is popular, as long as it has the potential for the mechanics discussed in the post.


Beyond that, there’s a very real question of fairness. If one coffee shop or bar is a Pokéstop and another one isn’t, Niantic or Nintendo are literally putting their thumb on the scale of which business does better on a given street. If the game continues to thrive, expect this to become a sore spot for people who suddenly found their real life business slurped into a game map.

Except that it’s not Niantic/Nintendo that decides necessarily. They are the final arbiter, but it’s really community submissions + actual player data from Ingress that lead to marks being “approved”. In the end, the effect is the same. But it’s not as though they have some poor Nintendo/Niantic employees looking at maps and picking random restaurants, or approving the taco joint they love so much.

EDIT: I spoke too soon.

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That and the fact that the extremely simple mechanics of Pokemon make it a match made in heaven for augmented reality. Without the brand behind it, it would be pretty hard to sell a game that only involved a creature floating ambiguously in your field of vision and you “throw balls at it.” I’m sure a lot of other developers have had their AR project tripped up on trying to build in even simple battle mechanics and make them feel natural and consistent in a video overlay.

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