Google Maps Platform

Krikey: Building AR/VR games with the help of Google Maps Platform to inspire empathy and change

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Editor's note: In today’s post we interview Jhanvi and Ketaki Shriram, two sisters who founded Krikey, an AR/VR gaming application with the goal of inspiring its users to become more engaged with nature and the natural world around them.

You founded your company in 2017. What inspired you to start your company, name it Krikey, and develop the Krikey app?

Jhanvi: Ketaki and I are sisters and we wanted to work together after we finished our masters degrees. Ketaki’s PhD was in virtual reality so we started looking at launching a VR start-up. After much research and thought, we landed on starting a mobile AR company because it was scalable and do-able from a cost standpoint and we would be able to get into that market more easily. We were traveling in Australia as we were filing our incorporation documents and had to think of a name to file. We chose Krikey because it is an expression of awe and excitement—the exact emotion we want people to feel when they first experience AR through our app.

We’re both very passionate about the environment and conservation so the first AR objects we built were endangered animals. After a while, we decided to try a spaceship battle game which users responded to, which resulted in us shifting the company towards gaming. We launched little mini-games and then, over time we launched our two location-based games which are in the app today.

What is it like to not only found a company with your sibling, but work with her on a daily basis?

Jhanvi: It’s awesome. it’s very rare to be able to work with your sibling or even start a company with them so we feel very fortunate. We’re grateful every day. With a sibling you can be more candid, get to issues a lot faster and try to find solutions more quickly.

Ketaki: Knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses helps a lot — they know what you’re good at, they know what you’re not good at, they accept you for who you are. If you join a start-up and you don’t know your founder, there’s a learning curve you need to climb.

Jhanvi: We’ve also separated the responsibilities so there are clear roles and responsibilities. So, Ketaki is the CTO, she manages the engineering organization and she’s got iOS, Android and other engineering teams. I’m responsible for business, finance, marketing and HR. We’re always in constant communication making decisions together while letting each other lead in their areas.

So far, you’ve launched two location-based games through Krikey app, can you tell us about the games and how you’ve worked with your gaming partners to develop each game?

Jhanvi: We developed Gorillas in partnership with the Ellen DeGeneres Wildlife Fund. In the game, an explorer travels on gorilla treks in their neighborhood to discover baby gorillas and unlock ecosystems. We’re very excited about this project and the ability to bring a new level of empathy toward gorillas. Not everyone can travel to Rwanda, but with the app everyone can go on an AR gorilla trek.

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We built Wingspan in partnership with the National Audubon Society, and in that game users play an ornithologist or bird scientist and walk around their neighborhood to protect and collect different bird species in various ecosystems. It all started when we read a New York Times article about the award-winning board game—and the female game creator/watercolor artists. After a cold-call, they sent us a copy of the board game to play (and we ended up playing the game all weekend). We absolutely loved it, so we decided to license the game and build a mobile AR version of it.

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How do you define success for each game that you launch?

Ketaki: For us, when we think about what is a successful Augmented Reality game, we need to redefine the metrics. The reason for this is that AR as a medium is a very different experience from a traditional 2D gaming experience so how many times someone taps or swipes is not really indicative of them actually enjoying the experience.

We think about success in terms of motion metrics–meaning, how much people are moving toward the AR object and how close they’re actually getting to the object. We want them to get close to the AR experience and really feel like it’s real and in their world–where we sort of blur the lines between virtual and physical. This is related to a theory called presence—which is how much people feel like they are in the AR experience. This is important to us because we know based on research that the more present people feel and the more engaged people feel with virtual experiences, the more likely they are to have physical-world attitude and behavior change.

There’s a theory called the media equation which basically says that humans can respond to media events the way they respond to real world events. Why is this relevant to Krikey? Well, the research does show that with immersive experiences the media equation effects are actually heightened because VR and AR are much more immersive than a standard TV will be. So we’re hoping with a game like Wingspan people will have a strong connection and start to see the relevance and importance of birds in their everyday lives and the success of ecosystems. We want Krikey to be that destination for people to engage and feel reconnected with nature.

Why is location an essential component to the games you are launching like Wingspan and Gorillas?

Ketaki: Location was interesting for us from the beginning for a couple of reasons. First, the true ‘home run’ of mobile AR is context. So, AR is really just a novelty unless it can offer contextual experiences. And to get context, people have to go to different locations, so AR objects have new physical world camera features to interact with each time.

And, the type of location matters. So, what was exciting to us about the Google Maps Platform Playable Locations API is that you’re not just getting random locations. These locations have been rated across a range of different types of metadata, like ‘types’ - for example, a park or school or ‘location aesthetics’, meaning how beautiful or photogenic is this location, and ‘foot traffic’ — how crowded is this location likely to be, such as a subway stop or an empty park with just a couple people. So this metadata helps us at Krikey determine if it’s the right location for an AR objects to create meaningful experiences. This is a critical component to creating context within AR games.

Why is building empathy important to your strategy and overall philosophy as a company?

Ketaki: I’ll start with the research—there are so many implications for immersive technology, both good and bad, obviously, which tends to happen with these new innovations. Our goal is to show users that there is a positive side to these new technologies and channel it to give back to users something positive in their day.

Why empathy as opposed to other metrics? The sense of presence and the feelings that people get from seeing AR in their living room. It’s powerful to feel recognised by a bird or gorilla. And these customized interactions can change the way people view the natural world. Empathy is a starting point for a kernel for change. 

Jhanvi: Generally our theory is that immersive experiences can inspire empathy and change real-world behavior. What we’ve done as we’ve built our company is establish these core foundational values of kindness, honesty, trust and respect. And we hire for this. We talk about this with our team all the time and want it to be reflected in what we build into our product and what we put out to the world. It has come through in the way we measure success and the types of games we deliver.