Botfighters: combo virtual/physical cell phone game

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I guess this is old news (<~Nov 2001), but this is really cool!

Botfighters is a mobile-phone-based game started in Sweden that
lets people "fight" others that are physically nearby using the
cell network's location-based services, and SMS text messages.
(if you fire a shot and miss, you have to get physically closer
to your opponent.)

Here's the article where I first heard about it:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/online/story/0,3605,774467,00.html

> Ready, aim, text
> The aim is to kill. But in this battle, your weapon is your mobile phone.
> Sean Dodson reports
>
> Thursday August 15, 2002
>
> In the car park of a large supermarket on the outskirts of
> Stockholm, Niklas Wolkert, a 31-year-old programmer, is waiting
> with his son for his wife to finish shopping. Niklas looks like
> any other bored father until he takes his mobile phone from his
> jacket pocket and begins tapping out a text message.
>
> It might look innocent enough, but in a few moments, Wolkert will
> be stepping into a virtual world. Wolkert is about to begin a
> game of Botfighters - a game that uses positioning technology in
> the phone to turn Wolkert into a virtual assassin, fighting foes
> on the streets of Stockholm.
>
> Botfighters is one of the most sophisticated games emerging on
> what is a new platform for play: the mobile phone. With their
> tiny screens and humble graphics it may seem hard to believe, but
> mobile gaming is seen as one way mobile companies can increase
> users' spending over the next few years. And you only have to
> look at Wolkert's face when he is playing Botfighters to see he
> is taking part in an extraordinary game.
>
> "When you get a reaction from another player, the rush is ...
> tremendous," he explains, between firing missiles at unknown
> assailants. The aim of the game is to "kill" as many people as
> possible. Wolkert takes about 30 seconds to target his opponent,
> who is more than a mile away and closing in. The battle lasts
> about 20 minutes, with both players shooting missiles several
> times. The game is only stopped by the return of his wife and the
> shopping. But Wolkert vows this is not the end: he will track
> down his opponent again. Revenge killings are common in
> Botfighters, and some struggles can go on for weeks.
>
> Each SMS costs Wolkert around 10p and each "turn" of the game
> generates new messages. One Botfighter recently ran up a bill of
> £600 in 60 days, but most spend a more modest average of £10 a
> month. The revenue adds up to nearly £35,000 a month, which is
> shared between the games's developer, It's Alive, and Telia, the
> biggest network operator in Sweden.
>
> "I don't see it that the person at the other end is getting a
> text message," says Wolkert. "I see them getting a warning
> message from their robot that someone is shooting at them. I know
> that that person gets the same sort of rush that I get."
>
> Sometimes, Wolkert engages in a spot of hit-and-run, cruising
> around the city shooting targets, driving off before they have a
> chance to retaliate. Elite teams, or clans, help each other get
> higher on the top list, although players rarely meet their
> assailants.
>
> "What we've done is drape a virtual world on top of the real
> world," says Lars Erikson, of It's Alive, Botfighters' creator.
> "So when you are part of the game, you see things no one else
> sees. It depends a lot on the imagination of the user, but we try
> to feed them with information on our website so they can make up
> their own game."
>
> To help them, the company has left a number of virtual items in
> the real world. Players constantly get messages telling them
> there is a "first aid kit" on the next street corner, or a bigger
> weapon on the other side of the street.
>
> "For the players, their phone is not a phone. It becomes your
> weapon or your radar," says Erikson. Wolkert adds: "It's a game
> that plays with your mind. It uses the best images you can get -
> those of your own imagination. My opponent probably doesn't have
> the slightest similarity to my idea of what the game looks like
> to me, but that doesn't matter to me."
>
> In Botfighters, the players rarely meet their opponents, but in
> September, It's Alive will release Supafly, a kind of online soap
> opera that will encourage people to meet each other. The company
> is also developing a version of Botfighters for the UK, this time
> tied in with the forthcoming Channel 4 series X-Fire.

after a bit of Googling, I see it has been covered in Wired as well:

http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/9.11/location_pr.html

| W I R E D
| Archive | 9.11 - Nov 2001 | Feature
|
| Be Here Now
|
| Forget the World Wide Web on your cell phone. The key to the
| always-on, everywhere wireless Internet comes down to three things:
| location, location, location.
|
| By David S. Bennahum
:
| Take BotFighters, a real-world mock combat game that's a variant on
| paintball - but in this case you use your cell phone to locate and
| "kill" opponents. Created by a Stockholm-based gaming company called
| It's Alive, BotFighters is offered exclusively to Telia customers.
| About 5,000 have signed up since its launch in April. Players join by
| going to the game's Web site (www.botfighters.com). There they can
| enter the robot lab and design their warriors, choosing from a range
| of armor, weapons, and ammunition. Once a player has built his
| character, he's able to locate - and be located by - other players.
| The fun here is in "shooting" a real person, who could be standing
| 1,000 feet away. Other BotFighters can then try to retaliate. The
| goal, naturally, is to kill as many people as possible. The designers
| provide players with help by inserting imaginary items into the
| real-world terrain. If a gamer steps onto a certain street corner, he
| might find that it "contains" a first-aid kit. A gun might be
| "stashed" at the next intersection, and so on.
|
| BotFighters has grabbed headlines in Europe for showing how cell
| phones are mutating into location-aware devices. At the same time, the
| game has spawned all sorts of aberrant behavior: "A player, his alias
| is Silver, was awakened at 1 am by his girlfriend," explains Sven
| Hålling, CEO of It's Alive. "She saw that his phone was beeping - it
| was an old enemy, who just shot him. He got out of bed, into his car,
| and chased the guy all the way to the airport, where he caught up with
| him and had a duel. By the time he got home, it was 2:30." When the
| same player went on vacation on the Swedish island of Gotland, he
| located all the BotFighters there, drove around in a sneak attack, and
| killed every one of them. In retaliation, five players formed a team
| and "chased after him, giving him a good beating," Hålling says.
|
| For Telia, BotFighters is more than just fun and games. Every time a
| player picks up an object, detects an enemy, or takes a shot at
| someone, the move is described by text messages. Since there's a
| preexisting billing mechanism for SMS (they tend to cost about 0.20
| euros, or 16 cents per message), Telia makes money by tracking and
| charging for each message a player generates. Hålling says one
| Botfighter racked up charges of close to $1,000 in 60 days; the
| average user spends $10 monthly. The revenue adds up to nearly $50,000
| a month. Hålling won't reveal how much of a cut his company gets from
| Telia, but he does admit that his long-term goal is to get a
| percentage of the profits, as opposed to a onetime licensing fee. It's
| Alive hopes that a little less than 1 percent of Telia's 3.5 million
| subscribers will eventually sign up for BotFighters, which translates
| to about 30,000 users and $300,000 in monthly earnings. That's just a
| small indication of how location-based services might increase carrier
| revenue as the market for voice-only services becomes saturated.
|
| This fall, Telia says it will begin a big marketing push to turn
| customers on to the benefits of location-enhanced services. Since 80
| percent of Swedes already own a cell phone, the primary way for the
| carrier to make more money is to create new offerings. [...]

80 percent... wow.

also:

http://www.wired.com/news/wireless/0,1382,50205,00.html

] Have Cell Phone, Will Shoot
] By Michael Stroud
] 2:00 a.m. Feb. 8, 2002 PDT
:
] [...]
] It's Alive launched another location-based game called X-Fire last
] fall in conjunction with Britain's Channel 4. Based on a popular
] paintball TV competition, the game attracted as many as 11,000 people
] in the United Kingdom to sign up for the location-based version before
] it was temporarily shelved after Sept. 11.
]
] Unwired Factory's ZoneMaster, a Risk-like game in which players amass
] collections of zombies to attack each other and control "zones" in
] Copenhagen and around Denmark, has inspired fanaticism similar to
] BotFighters. Sørensen says some players have been known to tool up and
] down the country on the railway looking for enemies to attack.

somewhat related, location-based services are finally being
deployed in the US as well:

http://slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=02/08/15/1159249&mode=thread&tid=158

) Tracking Your Employees, Children

) ATT Wireless has this (Score:3, Informative)
) by austad on Thursday August 15, @11:34AM (#4077199)
)
) ATT Wireless has this now with their M-mode service. You give
) friends permission to locate you, and they can just go to
) "location services" on the phone, and it tells where you're at.
) It's accurate to within a block.
)
) Their "find businesses" thing can use it too, so you can find the
) closest gas station, restaraunt, or strip club.

--
Gerald Oskoboiny <gerald@impressive.net>
http://impressive.net/people/gerald/

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