Location-based Games


With the massification of smartphones and improvements in the location-awareness of these devices, digital games are moving out from within the digital device to the surrounding environment. Games like Geocatching and Ingress engage millions of players around the world by providing challenges in specific locations of the planet. These are called Location-based games and its mechanics include the location of the player to drive the gameplay.

A game is a closed formal system [FSH04] with endogenous meaning [Cos02], i.e. a system that is governed by a set of rules, and in which the value of the game elements is restricted to the game itself. Huizinga [Hui55] proposes the concept of “Magic Circle” in which the game is embedded, both spatially and temporally. From this concept we can define Pervasive games as those games that expand this magic circle to the surrounding environment.

Location-based games, a type of pervasive games, are prone to be used in a great diversity of application areas, such as tourism, health, recreation and education, from entertainment to more serious purposes. In the tourism area, games are used to engage tourists in gameplays that provide dynamic experiences on specific destinations and can also be personalized. In Education games can be used to portray learning activities in associated locations, that improve the learning process with the increment of the experience. And Health can be improved by promoting activities that integrate physical activity such as walking or running.

Outdoors games take advantage (in general) of the GPS sensor that exists in a great majority of smartphones to locate the player, and the electronic compass and the gyroscope (if available) to devise the direction the player is facing the device. Accuracy can be a problem, especially in environments prone to interferences, like urban areas with high buildings.

For indoor environments the GPS signal cannot be used and therefore other location techniques are used. Techniques can be use that rely solely on the device’s sensors, by matching the WiFi signal and hotspot ID with a previous coverage map, or using the accelerometer to count the steps the user performs together with the direction captured by the electronic compass and gyroscope. Special filtering can also be used by matching with the location map [PCS12]. But, since these methods can vary in accuracy, several projects opt to use fixed devices in the indoor environment (ex. beacons) that can be easily triangulated by the device to estimate the location.

One of the major benefits of location-based games is the possibility to take advantage of the architectural landscape, refined over centuries by architects and urban planners, as game worlds. Yet this comes with some disadvantages [JC11]. The game world can change at some moments, by road works or changes in buildings, as the city is a dynamic entity. Furthermore, the weather (like rain, hot and cold) can limit the experience, by reducing the capacity of the player to play the game. Also, by requiring the user to move from place to place, the engagement of the game is dependent on the fitness of the player, which can largely vary (age, obesity, health conditions, etc).

The current “smart” age leverages the city to the “Smart/sensing City” concept where its digital nature is unveiled through a set of sensors and services that are available and loosely coupled through the IoT (Internet of Things) framework. This new paradigm, together with more empowered smartphones, can push the location-based games to a new level!


[Hui55] Huizinga, J.: Homo Ludens: A study of the play element in culture. Beacon Press, 1955.

[FSH04] Fullerton, T., Swain, C., Hoffman, S.: Game Design Workshop: Designing, Prototyping and Playtesting Games. CMP Books, 2004.

[Cos02] Costikyan, G.: I Have No Words & I Must Design: Toward a Critical Vocabulary for Games’. In: Frans Mäyrä (ed), CGDC Conference Proceedings. Studies in Information Sciences. Tampere: Tampere University Press, pp. 9–33, 2002. Online: http://www.digra.org/dl/db/05164.51146.pdf

[JC11] Jacob, J., Coelho, A.: Issues in the Development of Location-Based Games. International Journal of Computer Games Technology, vol. 2011, Article ID 495437, 7 pages, 2011. doi:10.1155/2011/495437. Available online: http://www.hindawi.com/journals/ijcgt/2011/495437/

[PCS12] Pinto, A., Coelho, A.; Silva, H.: A Ubiquitous Solution for Location-Aware Games. In M. Herrlich, R. Malaka, & M. Masuch (Eds.), Entertainment Computing – ICEC 2012, Vol. 7522, Springer Berlin Heidelberg, pp. 578–583, 2012.

Antonio Fernando Coelho

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