Shadow Cities finds that mobile gaming is surprisingly stationary

Ville Vesterinen - Co-Founder and CEO, Grey Area at Mobilize 2011Grey Area co-founder and CEO Ville Vesterinen took to the stage at GigaOM’s Mobilize 2011 Tuesday to discuss a growing trend: location-based gaming. One of the company’s most significant discoveries about mobile games has to do with how little they seem to actually be played on the run.

Grey Area is the company behind Shadow Cities, an iPhone game that broke new ground in mobile location-based massively multiplayer online gaming. Vesterinen called ShadowCities “the first of a new category of games,” where the game world and the real world are merged. Shadow Cities pulls not only other players in your area into the experience, but also the surroundings themselves. The real world tie-in allows for “the most exciting game board you can have,” says Vesterinen.

Location-based gaming, according to Vesterinen, needed technology to catch up to gamer expectations before it could succeed. Gamers who play MMOs are looking for “immersive experience,” and that’s what Shadow Cities can provide, thanks to the improved graphical capabilities of current generation mobile platforms.

Finding the sweet spot where location-based games succeed is a process of experimentation; Vesterinen says Grey Area expected a mobile game like Shadow Cities to be more popular while users were in transit, with short, casual sessions. In reality, most users tend to game in places where they are most often, like at home, and stay for longer periods. In this way, mobile gaming is much more in direct competition with traditional console gaming.

That also means location-based gaming need not necessarily orient itself towards casual players. Hours long sessions are common, and it stands to reason that some in-game experiences can cater to that group of gamers.

Another interesting point that Vesterinen made is that there is lots more opportunity to bring the real world into games; location is just one data set, things like real estate prices, weather, traffic could all contribute to the future of mobile gaming by filling in the virtual world with data users can easily relate to. That’s an interesting future to consider when video gaming’s past seems to have been built up around an idea of escapism, where game worlds often didn’t resemble a user’s environment at all.

Vesterinen said they plan to extend Shadow Cities to more countries, but also has more, similar games in development, though he wouldn’t go into much detail about specific plans for Grey Area’s future releases.

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