You are waiting in line at a deli, when all of the sudden your phone beeps. It’s alerting you that a deadly missile is headed your way…and it’s from your girlfriend! Getting lunch at the deli near her office put you in range. Time to impact is five minutes, will you return fire, defend yourself, or buckle under pressure?
With the billions of dollars poured into the gaming industry each year, you would think that we’ve exhausted all avenues for interactive entertainment. Right? Dead wrong. World Blender, a Seattle TechStars startup has developed a concept so revolutionary that it will change the world of gaming forever. It’s called “real-world gaming,” otherwise known as GPS and location-based gaming. Now you can team up or play against your friends in a way that incorporates your physical location. To learn more we met with Mike Arcuri, CEO of World Blender.
FRESH: Where on Earth (get it?) did you get the idea for World Blender?
MIKE: Peter Schlichting came up with the original concept. He’s a huge game lover, and he noticed a technological shift in the gaming market. Consoles were starting to stagnate while more and more games were being played on phones and in social networks. Peter started to look at popular game genres and think about what it would be like if that style of game was built from the ground up for mobile play as players move around the real world. Lots of game genres really made sense: shooters, real-time strategy games, virtual pets, exploration games, you name it.
We started talking about some of these concepts last Spring, and when the two of us teamed with Jeff Huang this Fall, we clarified our mission around two premises. 1. The most exciting game world is the real world. 2. The most engaging gameplay happens between real people. The concept of real-world games was born.
FRESH: How does it work?
MIKE: Our first game, gpsAssassin, is a battle game that lets you kill other players nearby with crazy weapons like mullets and robotic kitties. It’s all built around location. You can be the top assassin in your neighborhood or your city. You can attack people and then move out of range before they attack back. You can hide when you know there are other players nearby. And the game is even more fun when you fight your friends. You can use humiliations to goad your friends into joining the fray, and then spend the blood money you’ve earned through your work as an assassin to make your own custom weapons and armors to personalize the whole experience. Some players have a ball by turning their battles into long-running inside jokes.
FRESH: Which devices are World Blender games compatible with?
MIKE: The biggest problem with social mobile games is that they are hard to play with your friends when they’re restricted to one type of phone. Some of your friends might have iPhones, some have Android phones, and some have the free flip Samsung they got on their family plan. We’re using the very latest technology to make our games compatible with any modern device: be it iOS, Android, Blackberry, or even a netbook. In our upcoming releases, you’ll be able to throw down a challenge to a friend and have them take it up right away on their laptop. Later they can continue the game on their iPod. We’re getting accurate location data on all these devices.
FRESH: What kinds of customers is your game attracting so far?
MIKE: College students are our die-hard fans, which is why we plan on doing some fun promotional campus events soon. Also, we are seeing a lot of excitement from 20 something and 30 something males. For our first game, we’ve already had over 26,000 installs.
FRESH: Though a new concept, what do you think the future has in store for GPS-based gaming?
MIKE: Location-based gaming is going to advance very rapidly. In just two to three years I see campus-wide orchestrated games of capture the flag with swarms of students shooting at each other by waving their phones. The same phones will be used for team radio contact through earbuds and mics. Today, campus-wide events like UW’s famous Humans vs. Zombies tag take 100s of person-hours of prep work. But with the “real-world games” of tomorrow, students will be able to organize the similarly engaging events in minutes. Expect to be playing games as immersive as Halo, but in the real world, in real-time, with your real friends.
FRESH: What can we expect to see from World Blender in 2011
MIKE: We have new releases of gpsAssassin planned, and we’re also working on new missile combat with a lot of great new surprises. But when it comes to innovation in this space, we don’t want to do it alone. We’ve just put up a blog and forums focused on real-world games, and our goal is to build a thriving community of game players who love both the play experience and the future promise of real-world games and want to be part of the conversation.
A compelling new concept, it is likely that “real world gaming” will become a big part of our real lives. Not just because the locations are real, but because the interactions and experiences are. When you play a “real-world game” you walk away with a shared memorable story. Pulling college students off their computers to participate with their local community is the real innovation. World Blender just may be the cure to today’s epidemic of physical isolation and why we recognize Mike and his fellow co-workers as true Fresh Innovators.
We are in awe at the incredible innovators that surround us so we decided to highlight those hard-working brilliant minds in a blog post series called “Fresh Innovators.” By doing so we hope to not only showcase people who are doing great things but inspires others to do the same.