Looking to take further advantage of cellular location-based services, Vodacom has launched a massively multiplayer cellphone-based game, Legends of Echo, that blends elements of the real and virtual worlds.
Legends of Echo, which is built using Java, determines a player’s physical location. From their location, players can then explore their surroundings, or move (virtually) to anywhere else in the country to interact with other players — in real time.
“The idea was to take the entire country and remap it into a virtual world, giving users a lot of weapons, and letting everyone go wild,” says Vodacom portfolio manager for social media, Vincent Maher.
Instead of cities and skyscrapers, however, players will find rolling green fields, rocky outcrops and valleys to explore and establish their base. Real place names are still used to navigate the map.
The game, which is available only on mobile phones, works across all three mobile networks and is free to download. It was developed over 11 months by Maher and his colleague Nic Haralambous, working with a team of developers in Bangladesh.
The objective is to become a legend of the Echo by gaining enough “legend points” to appear on a high-score sheet.
Haralambous says Legends of Echo is a logical extension of Vodacom’s location-based social service, the Grid, which allows people to see where their friends are on a map. The game is meant to be social. “There is no way to be successful in this game without interacting with your allies and your enemies,” Haralambous says.
Vodacom hopes to make money from the service, which cost in the “lower seven figures” to produce, by encouraging users to spend cellular airtime to buy virtual currency that will allow them to purchase weapons and other goods in the game. Haralambous emphasises, however, that users don’t have to spend airtime to progress through the game.
Privacy advocates also need not get hot under the collar. Because the game uses location-based services — triangulation using cellphone towers — and not GPS technology, it doesn’t pinpoint users’ exact location. Maher says the technology is not accurate enough to have privacy implications.
Vodacom will also monitor the service closely to ensure it isn’t being used by sexual predators, for example. Though the game has an age restriction of 16, it’s likely to be most popular among youngsters.
For now, the game only works on certain Symbian Series 60-based smartphones from Nokia and Sony Ericsson. But Vodacom plans to port the software to BlackBerry phones soon, and an iPhone version is also on the cards. Supported Nokia phones are the E51, E52, E66, N82, N95 and N96; Sony Ericsson phones are the K850, W705, W850, W880 and W995. — Duncan McLeod, TechCentral