I would have probably laughed in your face if you told me one of the games I’m most interested in from PAX Aus 2016 is a mobile app, yet here we are. Buy Somewhere has been in stealth mode for the past three years, with the 15 person Sydney based team working very much behind closed doors.
Bursting onto the scene at PAX, their presence was certainly felt, with a colourful booth near the front entrance and fans scrambling to get their hands on promotional property cards. The premise for Buy Somewhere really is Pokémon GO meets Monopoly, with the augmented reality title putting players in a property tycoon style environment, as they traverse the real world building their portfolio.
Of course when looking at Buy Somewhere it’s kind of hard not to compare it to Pokémon GO, and for pretty obvious reasons. I sat down with lead developer Nick Griffiths, who told me that they had been in development for two years before they knew about Niantic’s Pokémon app, but it was kind of a blessing in disguise that Pikachu and pals received a mixed reception.
“It received just the right amount of attention to benefit us, if it completely failed it would have polluted our audience, but because it educated the mainstream on what a location game is then tapered out, it left room for a new game in that space” he said.
It’s important to acknowledge that although there are similarities, Buy Somewhere is dramatically different from GO, and Nick knows it.
“Our game is a total evolution in the area Pokémon created… no pun intended.”
One of the things that interested me most about this sort of game is how developers actually augment the world around us to create a game. To put it simply, Nick told me it’s something that takes a lot of time and data processing. To turn houses, cafes and high rise buildings into interactive objects, Nick and team put together an algorithm that processes real world information and turns each type into its in-game counterpart.
Oh, and don’t worry Melbourne/Sydney millennials, the amount of in game currency you’ll spend on properties is not subjective to location and only differs based on category, so you can keep smashing those avocados.
Not just an Australian affair, the game will be global once it has been beta tested and released in Australia over the next year. Nick told me that their algorithm makes the app relatively easy to roll out internationally, as it will automatically convert most data with very small amounts of manual input required.
Where Buy Somewhere should differ from other augmented reality apps, and what has me most intrigued, is that fact that it’s designed to feel like the world around you has been handcrafted, “we literally want players to feel like a level designer has made what they’re experiencing” Nick said.
Seeing real city skylines pop up over the horizon in game sounds almost too good to be true for an app, but from what I’ve seen and been told, it will totally happen. The team behind Buy Somewhere are keen gamers themselves, so making something that would impress them was integral, and as Nick told me from the start, Buy Somewhere is made to be accessible but deep for those that want to delve heavily into it. Think stats and breeding in Pokémon games, like that but with capitalism and taking over the world one house at a time.
To keep players hooked there will be PVP elements, however the gameplay around that is very much hush hush at the moment, however from what I’ve been told, it will be heavily influenced by tabletop and board games, using dice rolls and special power up cards for players to battle over properties.
Addressing the potential downsides of an app like this, I asked Nick about how the free to play app will be funded, and as you may expect there is in app purchases. However Nick was adamant that no content is hidden behind a paywall, as he believes it’s up to the developers to provide an enjoyable experience and entertain the players before offering them ways to improve the game with purchases. As to what this will be, your guess is as good as mine, but it certainly doesn’t sound sinister at this point in time. Considering players choose a token, such as a pig, a train or a dragon, to represent them in-game, I’d assume bigger and better versions of these will be up for sale.
I also spoke with Nick about some of the uglier sides of augmented reality gaming, such as trespassing or absorbed gamers wandering into dangerous places. Nick is confident that Buy Somewhere will avoid these risks, as the in-game loot chests and items players can pick up will be completely accessible from pavements, with nothing spawning on private properties or near dangerous locations such as roundabouts.
From what I saw at PAX alone, people were absolutely buzzed to pick up property cards and play with the game mechanics featuring giant inflatable dice, so their Q1 2017 beta release should generate a fair amount of interest. If it sounds like your thing you can sign up for the Buy Somewhere beta right here.