“If we want the metaverse to be a reality, we need to invest”

During Facebook’s recent conference, Mark Zuckerberg stated he believes the metaverse is “the next chapter for the Internet.” This next phase of the internet would weave together augmented reality, virtual reality, gaming and forms of social media into a 3D virtual world.

It’s great to see the discourse catching up with us: here at hubraum, we’ve been betting big on mixed reality for years. Most recently, we brought together some of the most cutting edge iOS developers in the world on our iOS augmented reality innovation program. You might have already read about how our program is revolutionizing the way we consume and make music. But how will it change entertainment? 

The Big LAD character from Tiny Rebel Games’ Fix Up The City game

We brought together the tastemakers who will be changing the way Gen Z and above have fun and asked them: where are we headed? We spoke to Susan Cummings, the managing director of Tiny Rebel Games, a developer of games and AR/XR experiences including Wallace & Gromit: Big Fix Up and Doctor Who: Legacy.

She was joined by Tim Friedland, the CEO and founder of forwARdgame, a company blending AR experiences with the physical world. Also on hand to chat was Andrew Hall, the CEO and co-founder of BALLN, an app which help football players improve by combining AI and gamification to make training fun again. Rounding out our super-band of AR experts was Robin Sho Moser, the CEO and co-founder of eyecandylab, a startup using AR to deliver more compelling television viewing experiences.

Still from Fix Up the City (Tiny Rebel Games)

hubraum: Thanks for joining me today! Let’s start with perhaps the key question: What’s the most exciting new form of entertainment that AR will enable?

Tim (forwARdgame): We’re pushing for the idea that your city can become a playground.

Susan (Tiny Rebel Games): Well, exactly! This is something I know a lot about because we created Fix up the City, which was a Wallace & Gromit game where you could interact with the characters on the streets of San Francisco, Bristol and Cardiff.

What made it really magical for me was being able to see the impact, like the first time I watched someone smash into a building and realizing rubble was collecting on the ground. I think the biggest challenge is how do we replicate that further? Other cities are asking us “Can you bring it here?” And that’s a lot of work. 

Still from Fix Up the City (Tiny Rebel Games)

Tim (forwARdgame): That’s true. Obviously precision mapping will make an experience top notch but you can’t scan every single location, so I could imagine a situation where a popular location like Central Park in New York is scanned to its last millimetre and is rented out to gamers by the hour.

Robin (eyecandylab): And just to add something completely different — over the past few months, with the return to real life, we’ve seen a lot of interest from our customers in combining the two worlds. So you might go to a theme park and you might want to extend the experience to the home before or after you go with something virtual, which could act as a souvenir or which you might think of as a collectible.

hubraum: That sounds like a great way of extending the fun! But to move to a totally different area: How can AR make us more active? 

Andrew Hall, CEO and co-founder of BALLN

Andrew (BALLN): We’re experimenting in real time with this one. We effectively have two AR scenarios in our app at the moment, one in which we have people do stuff indoors and an outdoors mode as well. And we’re seeing out-of-this-world engagement from Gen Z on the indoors stuff.

This is because they’re typically in their bedroom and they’re so fixated on their devices. Due to this, they’re very reluctant to get up and actually move around. But what we’re seeing is that if you can make that gamification layer fun enough, you’ll see kids pooped after doing an exercise three or four times in a row, which is great. 

We have some discussions going on with some big global organisations that are very concerned by a decrease in movement. According to the latest stats, there’s been a 90% drop in physical activity in this generation versus 25 years ago, so we’re going to have to engage in different ways. This is the frontier we’re facing at the moment — but it’s also an exciting one.

The forwARdgame team in Nreal glasses

Tim (forwARdgame): Yeah, I agree. Everything has to be gamified, because these guys have a seven-second long attention span: there have to be points and “well dones,” then movement comes naturally. We have a term for this: kickassability. A  game has high kickassability if it inspires these feelings of “I can be better than you,” and this makes the players move and I imagine this is also key for you, Andrew. 

Physical activity is painful, it’s an effort. But let’s not forget that sitting for 17 hours in front of a computer is also painful. They’re not lazy, they just haven’t had the right opportunity – so giving them the opportunity to kick ass while moving, inside the content that they love, which is digital, that’s where things are headed.

Image credit: Tiny Rebel Games

hubraum: Here’s hoping! And talking of where things are headed, how will AR breathe new life into familiar entertainment properties?

Susan (Tiny Rebel Games): We hope it’s bringing relevance and attention to properties to a younger audience, like with our experience with Wallace and Gromit. I know for people in the UK Wallace and Gromit was a key part of their childhood but it isn’t something that young people today are necessarily familiar with. We saw it as a way of grandparents being able to come together with their grandkids and say “This is something that was important to me growing up.” 

Tim (forwARdgame): Which is great! It’s all about progression, isn’t it? I think everything will find its niche eventually. I love what eyecandylab are doing because they’re expanding the radio of the 20th century, which is the TV, and we’re expanding the radio of gaming, which is your backyard. AR in general can act as a ventilator for an unhealthy media environment. 

The eyecandylab team

Robin (eyecandylab): This is funny because often when we talk about expanding the video space, we always get told TV is dying. But actually, people are spending more and more time streaming content. What’s changed is the audience behaviour – typically a viewer will be sitting watching something with their phone in their hand and doing something in parallel on their phone, but it’s a disconnected experience.

In the future, it’s not going to be this idea of having a phone and separately to that, having a TV, but instead there will be an interconnected experience where it feels seamless and you’re able to get information you’re about to look up anyway but this has already been anticipated and delivered in AR.

hubraum: Thanks Robin, that’s a gorgeous vision of the future. Finally: what do you think isn’t discussed enough when we talk about entertainment in AR?

Susan (Tiny Rebel Games): I’m annoyed with the hesitance of people in AR. I’m closing an investment round myself right now and there are questions we constantly come back to: “By the way, this whole AR bit of what you’re doing, is it really there yet? What’s it going to take to get to consumer adoption?” 

Often, game publishers don’t want to fund AR games and investors seem afraid of AR, but if we’re all going to try and build a metaverse then we need to start investing. As soon as the big brands say that AR glasses are a reality, then there will suddenly be this landrush to put games onto those glasses.

So there’s a real opportunity to define what AR gaming means. While there’s been growing enthusiasm about that, it’s been too slow and I think we could have got further faster if there hadn’t been so much hesitance about investing in AR.

Image credits: Tiny Rebel Games

Andrew (BALLN): In terms of the speed AR is developing at, it’s also worth thinking about hardware. When we started with this, we were wrestling with a mobile phone and what it could do from a computer vision point of view. Just two years ago we would spend weeks, if not months, debating whether these experiences were even possible on a mobile.

Happily, there’s now this snowballing effect where on one hand, the device is becoming more computationally powerful with the AI, neural engines, the LiDAR, and on the other hand, the algorithms are getting cheaper and cheaper in terms of payload. So what we’ve seen in the last six months is a computationally expensive AI algorithm on an iPhone 7 or 6S. So it just gets easier and easier to create these magnificent experiences so I’m pretty optimistic we’re going to go pretty fast now. 

Want more insights from tomorrow’s world? Join us online on December 2nd when we’ll be presenting a new study on startups and artificial intelligence in Germany! Reserve your (free) tickets here. 

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