Groundspeak, the company behind Geocaching, and Garmin, the GPS manufacturer, have teamed up to bring games to handheld GPS units (hopefully the car units come next!). For the past year Groundspeak has been developing Wherigo, a flexible gaming platform. Garmin included an embedded version in their new GPS, the Colorado.
Wherigo lets anyone build games (or tour guides or local reviews or real estate apps) using the Lua programming language. The games can be tied to a specific location or they can be “play anywhere”. The games are generally task-based. As you are given tasks you move from location to location and pick up items (inventory). Your inventory is used to complete other tasks (such as disable an evil robot or a fix a virtual spaceship). Wherigo games can also be played on the PocketPC platform (other platforms coming in the future). You can also download the Wherigo builder (windows-only, requires .NET) and use the emulator to try out the games (screenshot after the jump). You can use the Builder or their webservice to compile games.
Revenue will come from a games marketplace. Currently most of the games are free; many are open-source (for learning purposes). The challenge for Groundspeak is to get more people making games for them. For this to happen they’ll have add platforms (GPS-enabled (future) iPhone and RIMs are two obvious ones) to increase the likelihood of a developer being able to gain a large audience with an app.
I got the chance to play some Wherigo games last week on the new Garmin Colorado (wide-release in Feb; REI exclusively for the next couple of weeks). As you can see in the image above there are two buttons and a large dial at the top on the device (there are none at the bottom). The dial makes for a really quick way to navigate the around the device with one-hand. It’s very slick. The screen is bright and the maps look great. It has an SD slot which can be used for loading Wherigo games and maps (I wish that slot could be used to write geotags to photos — like the Photofinder does).
For Mac users, you can now use Bobcat to unload GPS tracks and get new maps (though it is great that Garmin is supporting the Mac, the app is lacking. There is no KML support, the the GPS trace UI is clunky, and there is no support for geotagging photos — an up-in-coming area that is sorely in need of some simple software). I have posted shots of the device on Flickr.
The Wherigo platform was designed for games, specifically GeoCaching-esque games. It allows Wherigo’s fanbase (one-million strong) to create virtual caches in parks and residential neighborhoods (places where physical caches weren’t desired or safe). If you’re wondering who will play these games look no further than the Garmin blog. Garmin and Groundspeak threw an event on Saturday to show off their new platform. When I stopped by the large room was packed and the crowd couldn’t wait to try the tutorials.
Where I think Wherigo will gain the broadest appeal is for more general content delivery. As I was playing with the demo game I kept thinking how useful Wikipedia would be on this platform (there are thousands of geo-tagged pages). Groundspeak is also thinking this way. On a hidden part of the site you can create games via wizards. The current games use the Waymarking API (to find local geocaches) or the Yelp API (to find local reviews). The apps are buggy, but they show great promise for the Wherigo platform by demonstrating both the compiling webservice, and the ability to take webservices off-line (but maintain the ability to do local queries). Wherigo was built for location-based games, but I predict it will find its true calling as a location-based content platform.
Wherigo emulator shot