Location, Location, Location

Yesterday, I finally got to have a go on the new family iPad that Father Christmas delicately dropped down our chimney. Having only really used an iPad for work, and never actually ‘played’ on it, I stumbled on lots of cool and, if I am honest, exhilarating, if somewhat unnerving, stuff.


For example the interface one gets for Facebook is entirely different to the view I see on my big MAC. Being a creature of habit, I hadn’t really ventured out of that view to sample other features. I had a blissful 30mins sampling the delights of the location based functionality. Then I stumbled upon an old friend having lunch with his estranged partner in a very swanky restaurant, and suddenly I felt like a voyeur. And worse, what if they were ‘watching’ me ‘watching’ them…


Speaking of peek-a-boo, do you remember that scene on Friends with naked man? Well that really happened to me, and in New York too. I was staying in a wonderful apartment just off Times Square. My friend, who was sub-letting it to me for a wee while, left me a note warning me of the ‘show’ every night at 6pm. Well I couldn’t resist. Done up like Grace Kelly In Rear Window (complete with big skirt, gloves and bag) I waited for him. He didn’t let me down, only this guy wasn’t in a wheelchair, like Jimmy Stewart was in the film. I know, I slightly digress, however it perfectly illustrates the Hitchcockian spookiness of the watching me watching you thing. And not completely unlike the weird thrill attached to the virtual voyeurism associated with location based apps. 


Back in the day, when what seems like a million years ago, but in reality is only 10, I commissioned a multiplayer game for Channel 4s fledgling new platform E4. It was the BAFTA nominated Tank Wars. I loved that game, and even then we were talking about developing a location based aspect to it. However the technology (not to mention the return on investment) just wasn’t quite there for us to be able to do it.  


Needless to say even though it’s taken 10 years to become a prevalent feature of multi-player games, I am quite excited about the potential of some of the games out there. One to watch is the popular Multi-Player Finnish game Shadow Cities which is just being taken global. It’s a bit like Harry Potter for the next generation, allowing gamers to roam their virtual neighbourhood casting spells and talking control of their city.

Angry Birds is going location based too, giving those with bleeding thumbs the chance to compete with each other in the same location. Grabbing a quiet 10 minutes (BY YOURSELF) in a Starbucks is never going to be the same again. There’s going to be people ‘breaking the ice’ actually talking to each other in real-life, comparing their Angry Bird score. And worse, forging new relationships and networking opportunities. Maybe Angry Bird will be the new LinkedIn


Seriously though, at long last the stars seemed to have aligned for location based games to forge ahead with exciting new possibilities. According to Ofcom’s latest report, (August 2011) nearly a third (27%) of all adults in the UK are connected via their smartphones, and nearly half (47%) of all teens. When asked about their use of the devices 37% of adults and a whopping 60% of teens said they were ‘highly addicted’ to them. Unlike the days of yore, the new generation-app’ are actually willing to pay for content too, with over half of them paying for games. In the USA according to eMarketer a third of the population are spending an hour every single day playing games of some sort.


The prevalence of social media and the acceptance of sharing our personal data between one social platform to another,  also means that not only are we ready with the technology for this, we are culturally ready too. We no longer seem to mind that our data is being made public in real time. And it seems that 15 million people on Foursquare don’t mind either. When you think about it, this is a seismic cultural shift.


It seems that ten years on from when we were first dreaming about what the consumer application might be for this location tech’ stuff, it’s finally here. We knew then that it would make our gaming story arc’s more interactive, immersive and galvanising, it was just a question of when and how it would happen. We also questioned if people would accept the perceived intrusion. That dream has finally been writ large. 


Having said that, my husband recently urged me to upgrade my iPhone to the 5.0.1 Operating System. I dutifully obeyed. Then I realised that he wanted me to do it so we could ‘see’ where each other was every second of the day. That’s when I realised that the rest of the world might be culturally ready for location based applications but I am most definitely not. 


A girl’s got to keep some mystery after all…



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