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Cloud technology is powering new types of multiplayer experiences. Can Shared AR bring us closer together and how can we use this new form of play to tell stories and connect with audiences?

What do we mean by shared AR?

Of all the things that technology has achieved you would be forgiven for thinking that making us more social probably isn’t one of them. After all, our phones have kept most of us head-down, tapping away at our virtual lives rather than engaging with the real people around us. 

Now, however, with the exciting growth of AR (augmented reality), the tide is slowly starting to turn, and there’s potential for this technology to give us opportunities to play together in unprecedented ways. For the first time, the virtual world and the ‘real’ world are working as one, and soon we will be able to look up from our phones back into the world we live in, towards the people who we share it with. 

Up until now, AR has provided us with ways to augment physical objects, explore planet-scale play with games such as Wizards Unite and Pokemon Go, and immerse ourselves in stories such as the voice-driven adventures in the Wonderscope app. But whilst groundbreaking in their creative capabilities, these AR-driven experiences are largely designed for individual play. The real power of AR will come into play when we are able to share these experiences with each other. What if we could interact with the same objects in real time, together, where what’s happening on my screen is also happening on yours?

Soon we will be able to look up from our phones back into the world we live in, towards the people who we share it with.

What tech is driving this new wave of shared experiences?

A key building block for multiplayer AR is the assimilation of digital AR content with the ‘real world’. This is known as meshing and, together with occlusion, enables digital objects to not only co-exist with the physical world but interact with and contextualise it. For example, this means the characters in your AR story can understand that they’re in your living room, darting behind sofas, standing on your coffee table, hiding behind corners…

And not only this but thanks to persistence, if you leave the room and come back, the AI will remain in the same place as when you left it, opening up greater opportunities to build a story over time. 

But perhaps the most exciting technological aspect of multiplayer AR is also the most challenging to get right: localisation i.e. the ability for the tech to know where we are in relation to who we’re playing with. If you were playing a game of paintball, for example, and the other players appeared on your screen in different places to where they were in the ‘real’ world, you most likely would be pretty inaccurate…and that ruins the fun. 

Luckily, 5G will help all this tech to reach its full potential and will ameliorate latency (lag in shared experiences will certainly dampen the immersive quality). The rise of edge computing, which sends information to the cloud to be processed, will also improve these experiences so that they run more smoothly.

New opportunities across all sectors 

With all this technology at full firepower, the creative possibilities to bring people together through play will be endless. It’s opening up greater opportunities for storytelling – invite people into your space and build up a story over time. Then share it with the rest of the world.

From a cultural perspective, landmarks such as museums and historic sites will be able to utilise their venues in completely new ways, creating bespoke digital experiences that can be shared by multiple visitors at once, removing the need for hard staging, props or expensive construction. 

Moreover, big, open spaces such as parks can be host to all sorts of digital play; new wearables (such as Apple’s rumoured AR glasses) will mean that a muggles’ game of Quidditch isn’t such a farfetched idea…. With shared immersive play, brands have the opportunity to not only reach people but bring them together.

Crucially, shared AR will also be of unprecedented benefit to creating entertainment which has purpose and of the wealth of sectors that AR will benefit, education stands out. There have already been highly inspiring developments in both languages and chemistry for individual experiences, and when these evolve into multi-user, shared educational experiences, the potential for absorbing information collectively and collaboratively will be staggering. 

As screen time becomes real time and we embrace this new social playground, we may well move on from lamenting technology for making us lonely, and begin celebrating its power to bring us together.

Header image © Deutsche Telekom

With shared immersive play, brands have the opportunity to not only reach people but bring them together.


James is Creative Technology Director at PRELOADED. He is passionate about building inclusive experiences that bring people together, and which educate and entertain.