Just how immersive can augmented reality gaming get?

The latest augmented reality market research, such as Ericsson’s recent “Ready, Set, Game!” report, indicates that consumers are more ready than ever for a new augmented reality (AR) gaming era. So, which use cases can we expect to see over the coming years? And when can we expect to see them? In this post, Anders Erlandsson takes an immersive look at the AR market.

AR gaming

One of the first video games I played was a flight simulator. The first time I played it, I was enthralled! Being able to do things I could not do in the physical world was just mind-blowing. Sure, the graphics back then were not the best, and the joysticks were not all that great either, but the promise of leaving the real word and entering an immersive experience was powerful. However, every time I got a new game, the experience, as far as immersive goes at least, rarely succeeded in meeting my expectations. There was always something that did not quite make the cut.

Fast forward to today. Through new immersive technologies, we may finally be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Could augmented reality be the technology that will finally bring us that sought-after immersive gaming experience?

Game over for traditional gaming?

Since the advent of the internet, consumer habits in general and gamer habits in particular have been in a state of flux, changing the way we discover, acquire and consume digital content. Today's cloud-based services enable us to access whatever we want, anytime, anywhere and on any device.

Even if we are nowhere near the world which was depicted in Ernest Cline's 2011 award-winning book "Ready Player One" (later made into a Spielberg blockbuster), where the protagonist runs around on a multi-directional treadmill wearing a VR headset and a tactile-enabled bodysuit and gloves, many of the components are already or could soon be realized.

Already today, gamers have the option to play video games in an immersive 360-degree experience through a wide range of VR devices, ranging from high-end PC and game console headsets to low-cost, smartphone-powered goggles. It would seem that VR is the next step in the gaming evolution, but so far, VR gaming has hardly made a dent in the overall gaming ecosystem. In Ericsson's augmented reality market research report Merged Reality, published 2017, consumers complained about the lack of affordable, high-quality VR headsets as well as good VR games. The cables tethering high-end headsets with a PC or game console was another challenge many VR gamers complained about.

This last challenge is indeed worrisome, as an increasing amount of gaming is taking place on portable screens when out and about. In fact, as was highlighted in the augmented reality gaming report that I wrote with a colleague earlier this year, 54 percent of respondents expect to play smartphone games on a weekly basis by 2023. That represents an increase of more than 12 percent compared to 2013. Although it is hard to predict which mobile platforms will dominate the augmented reality markets in the years to come, in the interviews we made, consumers often mentioned AR glasses as an expected development.

What more can we expect from the AR gaming market?

So, just how well does AR fit with the needs and expectations of gamers? Well, today, AR gamers are both intrigued by the promises of AR and disappointed by the delivery.

For these gamers, an immersive gaming experience is very high on the list of reasons to play, along with being able to play together with friends and family wherever you are.

Using a smartphone or tablet to experience the augmented world will therefore not be acceptable for much longer, as the small screen makes that sought-after immersive experience difficult to achieve. This paradox, where gamers reject mobile phones, but embrace mobility, is at the core of the AR challenge.

Almost 4 out of 10 AR gamers agree that AR gaming would be more interesting with better and more immersive games, access to lower-cost AR glasses and better batteries. In this, there is a growing need for AR glasses to be more affordable and look just like normal glasses, so that people can feel like they can wear them in public without causing a scene. Using the latest in mobile connectivity (read 5G) along with edge-cloud processing capabilities (read edge computing), glasses like this can become feasible, as the need for powerful processing and huge batteries would become a thing of the past

It is with this in mind, that we should analyze the fact that 7 out of 10 AR gamers think that AR opens up a totally new video gaming experience, and almost as many agree that it will change how video games are played in the future!

The impact of augmented reality on society

When gamers start accepting digital objects in the real world, these habits will lead to an acceptance in other areas too. Gyms and fitness centers can improve indoor training to offer customers an immersive experience of jogging or cycling on the beach, in the woods or on a country road. Roughly 1 in 4 gamers say that they will use AR when doing exercise in the next five years. Nearly half agree that multiplayer AR sports, like playing football or badminton, would be very interesting.

As a key component on the augmented road ahead, media consumption will define just how significant an impact AR will have on society. And this looks set to rise sharply. Looking forward, as many as 67 percent of gamers say they will increase their AR usage in the next 5 years.

Given that 3 out of 4 gamers are interested in AR gaming and one in three non-gamers also show interest, pronouncing AR as the next level of gaming might be too simplistic. Although AR is part of the future of gaming, gaming is not the only future for AR. When multiplayer AR games move out into our physical surroundings and persistent digital objects of various kinds start appearing all around us, the whole world becomes a potential game platform while remaining the place for other activity as well. In that sense, AR might be the next level of everyday life and not just the next level of gaming.

As for me, I can't wait until I get my first pair of lightweight AR glasses. First thing I will do is to head out and start playing, just like in "Ready Player One". I'll jump into my DeLorean and drive out to find the treasure. This time I might actually be able to achieve that fully immersive game experience that I have been waiting for!

Want to find out more?

Explore the latest consumer insights towards AR gaming in our Ready, steady, game! report, or read our 5G consumer potential report to find out the true consumer value of 5G.

If you have a couple more minutes, I also recommend that watch our other video which features today's consumers discussing their experiences of AR gaming.

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