Augmented Reality and Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games are helping to advance trends in interaction design.
Augmented reality games overlay the real world with a virtual world, the two combine to create a gaming space, though this concept requires advances in hardware before it can really enguage audiences. At the moment devices with cameras, such as smart phones, are able to provide some level of augmented reality, but soon there will be a lot more devices able to pull you in to these worlds. Devices like these glasses from iWear that allow graphics to float over a transparent screen, allowing you to still see the real world at the same time as a virtual one.
HowStuffWorks has an article on what sort of technology will/can be used for these games, and wikipedia has an interesting timeline on the concept — which dates it back to 1849. William Gibson’s latest novel features an artist who is a specialist in geospatial technologies. He blends geotagging with augmented reality in order to create historical events which are triggered when the audience walks in to a certain zone. Quite a nice execution of the concept.
A similar concept is that of Alternate Reality Games (ARG). The concept uses the real world as a platform in an interactive fictional narrative though — rather than blending the virtual and real together. The concept of an ARG has established itself as a form of mainstream entertainment as well as a method of marketing and advertising.
Then there’s the advent of the massive multiplayer online (MMO) game, which could even work on an augmented reality platform. Most people have heard of online games like World of Warcraft (WoW), either through advertising, media coverage or because they know someone who has played it. WoW has achieved overwhelming success as a game with a subscription model, with approximately 11 million accounts each paying US$15 per month. Many games have tried to compete with WoW. Some of the more successful ones have tried to differentiate themselves through gameplay (EVE, AoC) or build from an already established fan base (LoTRO, WAR, SWG).
Now it seems like a new point of differentiation might begin to challenge the industry in the form of free to play MMO games, appealing to a wider audience and targeting children and people who don’t normally play games (see: Free Realms, Fusion Fall and Runes of Magic). These games gamble on the fact that 1% of their audience will spend a reasonable amount, and 9% will spend a small amount per month on character customisation or transport within the game, etc. They don’t spend much on advertising, so perhaps you won’t have heard of them, for example Perfect World has been around as long as WoW and has 5 times as many accounts but compare how many people have heard of it to WoW. These games need to be accessible so they’re design to run on as many computers as possible, some have even been designed to run within a web browser so no download is required (Fallen Sword).