Google’s formerly Android-only, AR (augmented reality) game Ingress, created by internal start-up Niantic Labs, is now available on iOS.   The real-time, or rather, near real-time, MMOG (massively multi-player online game), allows people to interact with landmarks, works of public art, and other gamers, against the backdrop of an elaborate science-fiction story. Players attempt to capture triangle-shaped fields of land for their faction by gaining control of and linking portals with keys. These portals are all around you, and people you know may already be part of gameplay.

Why this matters

People are overwhelmed with digital ads and banal digital experiences that make big promises, but frequently fail to deliver. With so much digital noise, only solutions that are thoughtfully designed and empathetic to user needs will win market share.  Ingress is a remarkably engaging experience, limited only by a player’s imagination. Niantic has created a universe that is simple enough to be accessible to anyone with a smartphone, but elegant enough in its intricacy to captivate those with both nominal and substantial interest in the game.

Beyond the leader board

For years gamification has been an elusive white whale among marketers eager to harness its power to drive brand engagement.  With AR there lies the opportunity to build a genuinely interactive story, limited only by the marketer’s imagination (cue The Matrix). If brands could exercise some patience, and begin build something that extends beyond leader boards and promotions pushing, they could capture the hearts, attention, and loyalty of their target customer.

Prediction

While platforms like Foursquare and Yelp help companies leverage existing social networks to link their physical locations and digital offerings, real innovation requires risk.  The future of location-based app experiences will take a Pinterest + GPS approach, allowing users to create micro experiences and interactions, within the macro reality provided by a brand.  Think of smartphones, not merely as a way to sell, but as a portal into your brand lifestyle.

And So On…

Offering an interactive app with GPS capabilities is both a great way to engage customers, and a useful tool for capturing valuable information about customer behaviors.  Such an app could help brands learn, in real-time, where a customer goes, how long they spend in a given location, which of the company’s competitors their customer also has an affinity for, or even with which other customers a user regularly interacts. The potential of this model benefits a broad range of companies. But before rushing to develop an app, we highly advise thinking through a sound digital strategy, determining if gamification achieves your key marketing message, and whether or not the investment will give  an appropriate ROI.