E3: Location-Based Mobile Games On The Up?

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If you’re not in the Met’s elite SO19 firearms unit, chances are you don’t get to run around London shooting random strangers. But in the US, subscribers to MVNO Amp’d Mobile will soon be popping virtual caps in each others’ asses with a new location-based game called PhoneTag.

The game has been developed in partnership with LivePlanet, the company co-founded by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. It’s a massively multiplayer game which sends players haring off round real-world streets trying to kill each other virtually for cash and prizes. If you recently read about the StreetWars craze where people track each other down and shoot each other with water pistols… well, it’s like that, except with phones instead of water-guns.

“Essentially, every player is assigned a target, and using their handset has to track them down and capture them,” says Paul Nakayama, senior director of content programming at Amp’d. “At the same time, somebody’s trying to capture you. It’s like a daisy chain, so person A is hunting person B, and person B is hunting person C. If person A takes out person B, they then have to hunt person C. It’s really that last-man-standing kind of mentality.”

Amp’d is demoing the game at E3 this week with a series of five 30-person battles. It uses the built-in GPS capabilities of the handsets to track players, as well as providing a danger-meter which shows how close your pursuer is at any time. The more you play, the more items you’ll be able to buy to help your cause.

“We have invisibility screens, decoys, infrared goggles, scanners and even bloodhounds!” says Nakayama. “We’re also working with retailers to create item stores, so that when you walk into the vicinity of a certain store, specific items might pop up within the game which aren’t available anywhere else.”

Fun though it is to imagine people romping through the streets virtually blasting each other, Amp’d will need to put serious marketing behind PhoneTag to ensure it has lots of players from day one. The kiss of death for any location-based game is yawning gaps with nobody to shoot or play against. Amp’d plans to run daily and weekly games, as well as a three-month grand tournament. The latter is intruiging – what happens if the final two players are hundreds of miles apart?

“Originally the idea was that if you really wanted the million-dollar prize, you’d find a way to travel to that location to take the guy down,” says Nakayama. “But we’ve also developed a technology called virtual mapping, so we can overlay two different cities on top of one another using reference points.”

The game certainly sounds intruiging, and will be launching later this year in the US, for Amp’d subscribers only. However, there are a number of companies investigating location-based gaming, including US firms Glofun and Blister Entertainment. If Amp’d pulls it off, expect to see this type of thing coming to the UK fairly soon.

Stuart Dredge