Feedback Loup: Star Wars Holochess

Now you play chess in AR just like R2-D2 and Chewie. On Wednesday, Star Wars Holochess was released as an additional game mode on the Star Wars Jedi Challenges iOS app. This version of Holochess uses ARKit and allows users to play the game right on their smartphone. Holochess, officially known as ‘dejarik’ in the Star Wars universe, is a chess-like augmented reality game where players compete against an opponent with holographic monsters on a game board. Holochess was one of the early mainstream examples of augmented reality in the media, first appearing in 1977 in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.

Source: StarWars.com

Holochess was previously available with Star Wars: Jedi Challenges, but the hardware was required to play. It’s now available on the App Store, but it’s apparent that it was ported over from the headset version. The experience isn’t perfect, and the controls aren’t very intuitive, but for Star Wars fans, the novelty of playing Holochess on your table is enough to download the app.

The game’s visuals are crisp, the creature models look good, and each has their own animation (faithful to the films) for both doing damage to an enemy and eliminating one. However, the user can’t change the size of the board or choose its location once it’s been placed. In order to get a closer look or read descriptions and stats for creatures, the user must physically get closer to the board with their phone. The creature in the center of the picture below is an example. Its name, number of hit points, and damage dealt are all displayed but very difficult to read and there’s no way to make it more legible short of peering closely.

If anything, this edition of Holochess is an example of the high expectations we have for augmented reality being met with the harsh reality of what the technology is, or is not, capable of today. Yes, it’s true that you can now play Holochess in your living room and don’t need to travel to a galaxy far, far away, but it’s not something you will spend hours playing. This is not the Star Wars AR experience you’re looking for. For that, you’ll have to buy the headset and controller from Lenovo, which allows you to have full on lightsaber battles in your living room, among other things.

Disclaimer: We actively write about the themes in which we invest: virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and robotics. From time to time, we will write about companies that are in our portfolio.  Content on this site including opinions on specific themes in technology, market estimates, and estimates and commentary regarding publicly traded or private companies is not intended for use in making investment decisions. We hold no obligation to update any of our projections. We express no warranties about any estimates or opinions we make.

Victory Royale! Fortnite is Exploding

  • Epic Games’ Fortnite has exploded in popularity over the past few months for four reasons.
  • 1. It’s accessible to all (free to play, compared to similar games that cost $60, and easy to play, different than most complicated console games).
  • 2. It’s fun (Battle royale style).
  • 3. It’s high-quality (frequent gameplay, weapon, and skins updates).
  • 4. No pay-to-play advantage (keeps level playing field. Most games make money selling play advantage).
  • We believe these four factors will result in Fortnite being a top 5 game for the next several years.

Fortnite 101. Fortnite is a battle royale game, where 100 players parachute onto an island with the goal of being the last one standing at the end. A “storm” serves as a boundary that closes in at set intervals, shrinking the playable area and forcing players closer and closer together. Players begin with no equipment and must scavenge around the island looking for weapons and supplies to give them an advantage over the opposition. Fornite has screamed to the top of gaming titles recently and is the number 1 most viewed title on Twitch as of this writing.

Easily accessible to all. Fortnite is an extremely accessible game in a number of ways. For one, it’s free, making it easy to convince friends and family to try it out versus console games that usually run about $60. This is a major reason for its fast ascension to cultural phenomenon. When gamers see their friends playing a game or want to try a new one, they often must consider if it’s worth the investment. With Fortnite, users are able to play the online multiplayer without any upfront cost.

Another facet of its accessibility is the graphics and visuals. The aesthetic of Fortnite is cartoony and a little silly, which makes it much easier for parents to get on-board and expands the audience of the game to a younger demographic. There is no gore, no dead bodies lying around and the weapons feel less like instruments of destruction and more like they’re made by NERF or SuperSoaker. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), the first major battle royale title, has a much grittier, more realistic aesthetic that is targeted to an older audience. Fortnite looks and feels like it’s directed at kids, but has enough complexity and a high enough skill ceiling that it keeps older, more competitive players interested as well. It’s an example of the old adage, “easy to learn, difficult to master.”

Furthermore, it’s playable across platforms. It is available on PS4, Xbox One, PC, and iPhone, with Android support coming soon. Fortnite also supports cross-platform play, so players on the PC can play with their friends or family who play on Xbox (though PS4 and Xbox players can’t play together, Sony is blocking the option). This is the first time that this has been possible for any video game and could prove to be a major milestone for online gaming.

It’s fun, battle royale’s rise. Battle royale games are a relatively new phenomenon. One of the keys to Fortnite’s meteoric rise is that this genre is inherently fun. The longer the game lasts – and the closer you get to victory – the higher the stakes and the higher the stress. The exhilaration of being one of the few remaining players is a significant factor in the game and the genre’s popularity. Ultimately winning a game, emerging as the lone victor out of a hundred other players is an incredible feeling not found in other game modes. While Fornite was not the first game to embrace this format it was one of the earliest and brought its own unique spin by allowing in-game building of walls, ramps, and roofs. The building mechanic adds another layer to the game for players, giving them the ability to quickly reach previously inaccessible locations and create cover or an escape route under fire.

High-quality game. Fortnite’s battle royale format and accessibility would be non-factors if it weren’t for the fact that Fortnite is a high-quality product. The game is still in early access (i.e. it’s not a finished game), so there are some kinks here and there, but the Epic team is committed to the product and is visibly working hard to make sure the game is running smoothly and keeps players engaged. They have continued to add new weapons, equipment, locations, and other features to the game free of charge so one can continue to play and get the full experience without paying a cent. Fortnite brings in revenue is by selling cosmetics for players to personalize their in-game character, and a 10-week ‘Battle Pass’, essentially a subscription that gives players more challenges to complete and cosmetics to unlock during that period. The game looks good, feels good, and is free. It’s not a tough sell to get people to try, and once they do they are hooked. Below is an example of two of the latest in-game character skins that can be purchased.

No pay-to-play advantage. While it’s hard to say how much the approach to in-game purchases contributes to Fortnite’s success, it is starkly different from how some major publishers approach in-game purchases. Electronic Arts has been successful with in-game purchases, especially with their FIFA games, but also faced notable backlash from the way the in-game purchases for Star Wars: Battlefront II were setup. EA allowed players to spend money to unlock items that grant a competitive advantage over those who elect not to spend extra. Fornite takes a different approach, offering its 10-week Battle Pass and limited-time character skins, items, and emotes, which are completely cosmetic and provide no competitive advantage. Some of these items are only available for purchase in a 24-hour window before they disappear from the store, driving users to get the items they like while they can. Despite the game being released for free, and in-game purchases providing no competitive advantage, Fornite earned $126M in revenue in the month of February alone. Since then, Epic Games has launched Fornite Mobile, which has reportedly reached $1.8M in revenue per day. Needless to say, their unique in-game purchase strategy seems to be working.

Disclaimer: We actively write about the themes in which we invest: virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and robotics. From time to time, we will write about companies that are in our portfolio.  Content on this site including opinions on specific themes in technology, market estimates, and estimates and commentary regarding publicly traded or private companies is not intended for use in making investment decisions. We hold no obligation to update any of our projections. We express no warranties about any estimates or opinions we make.