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Monday March 15, 2010 6:38 pm

SXSW 2010: Playing with Place - Location-aware games


Posted by Andru Edwards - Categories: Editorial, Features, GPS, Video Games


SXSW svngr playing with place

Katheryn started off the session giving us geo location coordinates that only a machine would love.  Her followup to this was the context matters; our location around a place and who is around that space with us.  There is also excitement around discovery with geo.  An example could be geocache games which created back in the old old black and white LCD “latitude and longitude” GPS units and have worked their way into the App stores of the and handsets.

Although location is in its infancy, Foursquare has opened their APIs and sites like gatsby.com are using location data + user preferences to send SMS messages to those who are in proximity with one another and could potentially benefit in meeting up in real life.  While this leads to privacy issues, it is opt-in and could let “regular strangers” connect and communicate in ways that they might night work up the courage to in the physical world.


Zach’s shared information on his triggered game called seek ‘n spell which takes an overlay satellite shot of a physical space and places virtual letters throughout the area, like a park.  To pick up the letters, you run to them in order to spell words; much like Scrabble to glean points.  Since the game’s launch, players have run over 1,600 miles and played in physical spaces around the world. This game can be played with groups, or by yourself, which may get others to wonder what you are doing, and may allow you to meet some new people in your community - who may no doubt think that you are weird, but might get some people to play along with you, as long as they have
an iPhone.

Seth’s scvngr builder is a new platform for developing location based mobile games for tours and other interactive experiences.  They have raised several million dollars from Highland capital as well as Google to experiment with different location based interaction interfaces. Several enterprise level applications are using this tool around schools, art galleries, and commercial entities.  On the commercial side, for a local jeweler used the service as a promotion to challenge users to find a buried $15k ring in Tuscon Arizona.  They were able to get 1500 people to play this virtual scavenger hunt which sent people around the city.  The winning team who found the ring used the opportunity to get engaged on the spot once they found it. Individuals can build a scvngr hunt for free, and institutions or companies will pay for these services.  Check it out.


Heidi Miller, a consultant in the audience asked the question “What location based games can be played by the 72% of the market who do not have smart phones - but use common flip or so called feature phones?” Seth said that his group sends millions of SMS messages and it was suggested by another panelist that Twilio has a gateway and API around SMS messages.  You can read about that here.

There is no doubt that smartphones will continue to use GPS control in new innovative ways, making game play that utilizes motion sensors, that have been the majority of the application store to date, look antiquated.  If geo interfaces for game play take off, you may just look a little odd running around your environment interacting with mobile software.

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