Augmented reality looked like it was supposed to a ubiquitous success; Apple and Google and Facebook seemed to say so. But things are taking a bit of time to get kicked off, so the startups in the space are having to get real weird with it.
Adventurous is an augmented reality scavenger hunt geared toward families, but it drags in enough elements of the real world to make it a pretty robust experience. This isn’t your typical AR phone app that you pop open once. For one thing, you have to be at a certain physical location in order to try it out, you have to make an appointment and, oh yeah, there are live actors involved.
This may be one of the more odd companies in Y Combinator’s latest startup batch — it’s basically a kind of tech-enabled live theater. The company’s co-founders acknowledge that having appointments and live actors involved with an app isn’t the most scalable business model in internet history, but they say they’ll figure stuff out as they move along, and that for now the families and kids involved really like the experience.
“We know that families are constantly looking for stuff to do with their kids, and not all screen time is good screen time,” Adventurous co-founder Jeany Ngo tells TechCrunch.
When a family or group books an adventure, they meet at a designated location at a given time and get a rundown on the mission and story from actors in full dress and character, then they’re tasked with walking around to different physical locations where different geo-tagged experiences will pop up on their ARKit or ARCore-enabled phone and they’ll have to complete the tasks to move on.
The experiences are designed to be around 45 minutes to 1 hour each and the whole shebang costs $15 per person.
One of the big selling points of augmented reality as a medium is that it can theoretically gain an understanding of a location’s geometry and plunk down digital content in a way that’s tailored to your space. That may be true for something like Google’s AR Stickers, where it’s a little stationary 3D model, but when you start talking about actual story lines, the fact is that computer vision just can’t make reliable sense of a dynamic environment when it comes to a game or experience.
The company has been testing various locations for their AR adventures; right now they’re sticking with missions in San Francisco’s Chinatown and Golden Gate Park. It’s a little unclear whether there could be any associated legal issues for a startup tying digital experiences to physical public locations, but the co-founders say they haven’t run in to any issues yet.
With Adventurous, the startup is banking on the robustness of an ironed-out experience to suck in fans and bring them back. The company’s co-founders foresee a world where narratives fit together like episodes in a TV series, bringing families back to book appointments to see what happens next.
Location-based entertainment has been a hit-or-miss vertical for the VR industry, though some startups have seen success. Sandbox VR finished out a $68 million Series B earlier this year in a round led by a16z. For AR startups, there haven’t been too many stories of entertainment experiences that have been strictly tied to geographic areas outside of event activations. While you can find Pokéstops inside Pokémon GO, it isn’t a full linear experience that requires everyone to move along an identical path.
Adventurous is live now. If you’re in SF, you can book yourself a fancy scavenger hunt in augmented reality this weekend.