Why "Micro-Engagement" Is Driving The First 3-D Game For Google Glass

Watch out for flying cream pies, blasted bananas, and tossed tomatoes! Created by smart device gamers at the startup Mind Pirate, Global Food Fight is testing how well we will play under Glass.

Let's say you live in New York City and you'd like to throw a tomato at your friend in Paris. Where to turn?

Google Glass might be your best option. That's because earlier this month the Menlo Park-based startup Mind Pirate released the first game to launch simultaneously on both the iPhone and Google Glass in a shared gaming space. It's called Global Food Fight, a three-dimensional, multi-player action game that lets players fight with friends, foes, and avatars of politicians, and celebrities (okay, yes, lookalike avatars) from around the globe. Currently, Taylor Swift and Katy Perry rank among the most popular celebrities to get splatted by squishy tomatoes, gooey cream pies, frosted doughnuts, and other foods.

In the week and a half since its release, players in 111 countries have engaged in food fights, helping Global Food Fight become the 15th most popular game in the Action and Arcade categories on iTunes.

Mind Pirate CEO Shawn Hardin recently spoke with Fast Company about the new game and shared his ideas on the micro-experience approach he says is required to design for Glass. It's this model he is using to create the first smart watch and smart glass development platform.

“At the highest level we believe that designing for wearables requires developers to rethink what is the litmus for creating excellence in application design," Hardin says. Until now, he says, a great app could grab a user's attention for 20 minutes or longer and pull them into an interface. "In the wearable world, we see what we’re calling a micro-engagement model," Hardin says. "Because these devices are being worn, users are grounded in a certain physical space which is very much about the real world. And in the real world it can be hard to play a game for much more than half a minute while walking down the sidewalk.

“Literally, get a tomato, an onion, a banana cream pie and find a friend of yours in New York or Paris or Hong Kong and throw it at them."

Splat!

Knowing that sensors can be used to track orientation, speed of movement, acceleration, and temperature, with his game Hardin seeks to take advantage of as many device capabilities as possible. “We wanted to move beyond touch-screen-only design in terms of taking advantage of location, haptic feedback, using the gyroscope, the accelerometer, the camera, and really allowing for a richer use of the device capabilities,' says Hardin. Out of Mind Pirate's internal studies of top-performing games, he says, "over 90% of those games have been based entirely on one sensor, which is the touch-screen multi-touch sensor."

Developing for Glass, clearly, is something people are still learning how to do. Hardin says that it takes a unique approach--one that requires a new way of thinking about the ideal experience and length of player engagement.

“Designing for smart glasses is very different," Hardin says. "You really have to look at the form factor you’re designing for and really understand the unique benefits and dynamics of that device and design for that. Whether it’s utility type applications or entertainment and gaming, the right balance for application developers to target is more micro-engagement--30 to 45 seconds. A few minutes or less is really the sweet spot."

Global Food Fight is designed around this micro-engagement model. Glass wearers quickly jump into a virtual world that takes advantage of location, sets you within a context, allows you to look around your location using head gesture and other tracking capabilities of the device. As Hardin says, "you find friends around the globe, identify them, target them, throw your cream pie, fly across the globe with your food item to find them, then actually come down into a virtual neighborhood where you can try to potentially hit them with your food item.”

There are various defenses players can deploy to avoid that from happening--99 different unlockable defense layouts to keep your neighborhood safe and protect your position atop the social leader board. However, even with that, Hardin points out that the entire loop is a very brief exchange.

“When you’re on Glass and someone throws a cream pie or a squishy tomato at you and you get a notification, you can choose not to respond at all because it’s not convenient. But if it is convenient for you to counterattack, you launch into what we call quick-launch mode where you’re directly counterattacking that person. Then either you achieve your goal and you hit your opponent or you don’t.” Apparently, a lot of people choose to counterattack, and the idea is universally appealing. So far the top countries Food Fight-ing are the United States, Canada, China, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Korea (Republic of), and Thailand.

As for what makes this work for both smart glasses and smartphones, Hardin says the key is creating a shared game space in the cloud where friends and anonymous real-world players can find each other easily, and creating an experience that is device agnostic. "Consumers start an experiences on their laptop, they would like to be able to pick it up on their smartphones or tablet and make sure the experience is consistent and is always up to date," says Hardin. "In an application context, that’s the architecture that we’ve been focused on, where you play on one device but really the game logic, the application logic, the state of progress, or the state of interaction is preserved in the cloud and is available from any device that you want to use."

If Hardin and his team have their way, games are just the beginning. Mind Pirate conceived and implemented Global Food Fight to highlight the power of their Callisto platform, a development platform that enables any third-party developer to easily build for smart watches and smart glasses. As an interesting note for any aspiring smart-device developer, they chose games as a test category because games, to Hardin’s mind, represent the most difficult category to nail.

In November, Mind Pirate formed a production lab through a partnership with the Canadian Film Centre called IdeaBOOST, an incubator for technology and media. The company is also currently working with five different development teams who are using Callisto.

In addition to Global Food Fight, the production lab will to launch four more wearables apps later this week at a launch event in San Francisco.

Where will those apps ultimately be shared? Hardin is careful not to speculate. He does, however, hint at the future of a Google Glass app marketplace and the developer desire for just such a place. (Glass users are currently forced to download third-party apps through user-curated sites.)

"Of course that’s all up to Google and we don’t know anything either way," Hardin says. "But we expect that there will be some sort of app store coming for the Glass devices."

The fact that at least one college is offering a Glass class this fall suggests Hardin is right. And when that happens, Mind Pirate will be ready. For now--watch out for flying cream pies!

[Smashed Tomato: Picsfive via Shutterstock]

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