AR & VR Breathe New Life into Books and Board Games

When the first iPad came out, people talked about how tablets would revolutionize old game formats. Families could sit around a table and play anything from Go Fish to Monopoly without needing to store shelves full of board games. iPad versions of the games could leverage players’ individual iPhones to digitally replicate game pieces: Tile racks in Scrabble, money and deeds in Monopoly, even hands in card games could all be managed via touchscreen. The possibilities were endless.

Digitized board games haven’t exactly set the world on fire, but they are still kicking around. In the build-up to the public release of Apple ARKit and other next-gen AR/VR platforms, developers have been showing glimpses of what board games, childrens’ books, and other family entertainment will look like in a mixed-reality world.

Twitter user  posted this video clip of Echelon, an AR strategy game being developed for Microsoft Hololens by Helios Interactive. The clip speaks for itself, showing the potential for immersion when a table full of players all strap into the same virtual world for a shared gaming session:

The Wrap‘s Sean Burch spent some time with Los Angeles-based VR studio Within, getting a glimpse of their vision for the future of childrens’ books. Burch came away impressed, to say the least:

[Within CEO Chris Milk’s] team has been working on an untitled Goldlilocks-themed experience that only needs an iPad and a flat surface to show AR’s potential. Milk — cutting a figure of a taller, more svelte Zach Galifianakis with his pulled-back hair and impressive brown beard — pointed his iPad at a table and started reading along to the story on the screen. Voice activation followed his words and a digital forest began popping up on the iPad, with Goldilocks wandering through trees before heading inside a two-story house.

Admittedly, I was caught off guard by how cool I found the experience — especially since I’m about 20 years older than the target demo. But Within tapped into how AR can create the 21st Century version of a pop-up book, with users able to turn their kitchen table into a fantasy world. “Goldilocks” was a hybrid production — part-book, part-cartoon, and part-video game.

Mixed-reality versions of board games and books will cost far more to produce than their ink and cardboard counterparts. It remains to be seen how the financials will play out for studios like Helios and Within, and if a balance can be struck between developing paradigm-shifting experiences and turning a profit.

Remember, iOS users are accustomed to paying a dollar or two for an app; something like Echelon or Within’s Goldilock’s experience almost certainly would have to cost ten times that (at least!) to make financial sense.

Still, the future of family fun will be interesting to watch as we move from board games and screens to headsets and mixed realities.