How vertical positioning will change location-based games

As NextNav rolls out its Pinnacle service for vertical location across the country, we’ve been talking with leaders in key industries which are starting to take advantage of this new capability.  Location-based AR games promise to unlock new markets and deliver immersive new experiences.

We recently sat down with Leandro Gonzalez, the CEO and Co-Founder of Trick Gaming, to talk about the impact vertical location will have in the world of gaming.

NextNav:  How do you see vertical location playing into location based mobile games?  Now that we have this new 3D location capability, how do you think that’s going to change gaming?

Leandro Gonzalez:  So far, location-based gaming has been constrained by the use of only two dimensions.  That’s not an accurate representation of real world locations.  3D unlocks a ton of potential by putting games into the world that we’re used to.

It’s pretty simple, actually.  Location-based games are going to become more accurate, and by definition that’s going to make them more cool.  The usual suspects come to mind. 

Right now, in Pokémon Go you can find hidden Pikachus at ground level only.  With this, you can explore your surroundings in a more expansive way, and find one in the Empire State building. 

It expands the sense of adventure – something that’s currently missing from games because we’re constrained to things that happen on the ground.  With vertical location, games will imitate real life, becoming more dynamic and immersive.     

It’s a difficult thing to grasp if you haven’t experienced it yet, but once you see yourself going up the stairs in real time, you immediately see the potential this whole concept has.  It’s just fun!  That whole idea of navigating through a 3D space – that’s something we’ve never seen.

NextNav:  Do you think this is going to play out through new games that are built specifically for a 3D world, or do you see standard, 2D GPS games upgrading their capabilities to operate in new ways?

Leandro Gonzalez:  I see this happening in two waves.  The first wave is when existing GPS enabled games become more precise.  Lots of augmented reality games will have to be retrofitted with this new capability, and as a result we’ll see improved gameplay and new game features that go beyond simple GPS locators.

I think the larger wave will come when games take on a whole new form.  The way it usually happens is that indie games start to play around with new capabilities.  They’re the ones who usually unlock new creative possibilities and serve as the test bed for the major industry players.

I really see vertical location as a new core mechanic for game developers.  There are so many ways to implement new functionality like this – we have a whole new dimension to play with!  It’s going to result in new types of mobile device games that we’ve never seen before.

NextNav:  I love that concept of a “new core mechanic” that goes to the heart of how games actually work. With that in mind, talk to me about this as a game developer.  As someone who develops games for a living, now that you have vertical location available through a Unity plug-in, how easy is it to add vertical location to a game?

Leandro Gonzalez:  Game developers shouldn’t have to deal with the complexities of an integration.  Especially those smaller indie developers I mentioned before – they should be focused on game play, on the content itself.  They don’t want to spend a lot of time on back-end engineering issues.

This is the beauty of having vertical location with a Unity plug-in.  With a very simple interface, you can initialize, calibrate, and do all of those background functions.  It’s just a single line of code.  You don’t have to struggle with a library.

NextNav:  When you talk about struggling with libraries and code, how long does that usually take?  When you’re putting a game together, how much of your time is focused on game play, and how much is focused on back-end issues?

Leandro Gonzalez:  It depends a little on the type of game.  There are different models – some kinds of games are easier to develop than others.  For free-to-play games, it may be something like 60-40, where 40 percent of your time is focused on making back end tools work.  Integrating all of those SDKs – it ends up being non-trivial.

With a Unity wrapper, game developers will get all of the vertical functionality they need without all of the technical hassle.

NextNav:  Where are you going to take this next?  What kind of game are you envisioning for this kind of capability?

Leandro Gonzalez:  The first thing that popped into my mind was a treasure hunt.  I came up with this concept of “sonar” for pieces of treasure hidden out in the real world.  As you’re getting warmer or colder, the game would tell you in real time how close you are. It encourages you to explore the world even more.

I’m a huge fan of Dragonball, so naturally I was thinking of applying this treasure hunt concept to a game like that.  So maybe a real world hunt for Dragonballs, where this “sonar” tells you how close you are to Dragonballs or other items in the Dragonball universe.  You could also add a social interaction component to see characters and other players in real time, similar to what you see in Pokémon Go. Here are some screenshots that we’ve put together of what that might look like:

Dragonball Z Treasure Hunt

NextNav:  Of course, Unity goes beyond gaming applications.  Their engine is used to create apps for a bunch of different industries, like automotive, training applications, real estate, and other areas.  Can you see a use for vertical location in these other areas where Unity is a prominent tool?

Leandro Gonzalez:  We’ve definitely used Unity for non-gaming applications, usually training modules which use some kind of augmented reality component.  3D visualizations are a pretty common need in this area. 

Here’s one connection I made almost immediately.  We’ve been working on an RFP for an app that would guide people around a certain course.  The idea is that they hit certain points at certain times.  Not all of those are going to be 2D. 

Think about security personnel who touch certain points along their route or scan QR codes at certain locations.  With vertical location, you could do this in a building without even needing the touch points.  The whole course would be on the security person’s phone.  We could track everything and make sure they were there.

As we come up with these things, just knowing that vertical location is available, that’s going to be huge.  This whole capability is revolutionary.  It’s going to open up a whole new universe for us.

NextNav:  How hard it is to differentiate a game?  There are hundreds of thousands of iOS and Android games out there – is vertical location one of those things that’s going to help a game get noticed?

Leandro Gonzalez:  Absolutely.  We’re always looking for ways to be different.  Every time something new like this comes out, it’s a new opportunity. 

We have to compete with the big studios, with all the content they put out.  I say that like it’s a bad thing, but it’s really the opposite.  We have to try new forms of game play, new crazy ideas.  We can take risks. 

Since I’ve started working with vertical location, my mind has been in constant motion.  It’s exciting!  Can we be one of the first games out there to use this technology?  To really know that you’re part of that leading edge, that first wave, is pretty exciting.

Once the whole gaming community becomes aware of this, we’re going to see such an outpouring of creativity.  It’s going to be amazing.

NextNav:  That’s exciting for us too!  As a company that’s been developing this technology for some time now, we know that we’re a part of something big. 

It’s great to hear others say the same thing.  It’s inspiring.  Thanks so much for joining us for this discussion.