Social gaming is about to become very big in Japan: On July 29 Softbank announced that it was teaming up with American game maker Zynga in a bid to promote the format in Asia. Zynga Japan will be developing games similar to Farmville to appeal to the Asian market. They’ll be competing with locally made products that have already been coming out on the Japanese cell-phone market. These include games such as Naishoku, which re-creates the “fun” of manual labor with production-line tasks such as putting heads onto countless plastic frogs. If this trend takes off commuter trains could soon be filled with people relaxing after a hard day’s work by completing mindless tasks on their cell phones and posting the results to their network of friends.
But it’s not all drudgery on the social gaming front. Tonchidot, makers of augmented reality application Sekai Camera, have announced the upcoming release of a social augmented reality game that will have players not only communicating via the Web but also meeting up for drinks to discuss the game. Sekai Yuusha (World Hero) has been dubbed an ARPG, combining elements of Augmented Reality and Role Playing Games. Once players chose from a range of three possible character types – warrior, magician or monk – they can begin their quest by roaming the real world in search of monsters to battle and riddles to solve, collecting treasure and medals along the way.
The Sekai Camera app, which was released on the Japanese market last year with much excitement, allows users to interact with floating tags that have been placed virtually in real locations. The tags appear on the screen of your cell phone when you point your camera at them, presenting you with an augmented reality vision of the real world. Players of Sekai Camera games are not just exploring virtual space but are moving about in the real world. Monsters in Sekai Yuusha will have to be sought out in physical locations.
The social element to Sekai Yuusha will be directed through a dedicated Twitter communication tool with which players can exchange information about the game and decide to form alliances in order to do battle with monsters. There will also be 505 real locations around Japan where players can meet up and discuss their quests over a tankard of ale.
By taking the action out of the virtual into the actual world, the social element involved in AR games will far surpass anything other social game formats might offer. In my book this beats assembling plastic frogs or planting eggplants in virtual spaces any day.