CSR Racing 2 has been popular as a mobile game because it offers car racing fans the fantasy of collecting and owning their own cars. And now game publisher Zynga is announcing an augmented reality feature that allows players to bring those cars to life in the real world.

Using Apple’s ARKit platform, Zynga’s developers created an AR mode where you can look at your mobile phone display and see your game car as it would look in the real world. You can even take a photo of you standing next to the car and share it with your friend (as shown in the picture above). It works on the iPhone and iPad versions of the game, using the iOS 11 operating system. CSR Racing 2 has been downloaded more than 50 million times and it has generated more than $100 million in revenue, according to measurement firm Sensor Tower.

Zynga’s designers at the Natural Motion studio in the United Kingdom create models of cars that were highly detailed, with details that you can’t even see when you are playing the game. You can go into your six-car garage in the game and inspect the cars, which are rendered in 3D with doors that open, hoods that pop up, and interiors that are highly realistic. But you can’t see them in much detail.

Now, with the AR feature, you can place the car in a real-world scene, as viewed by your smartphone camera. You can place it in the scene and size it until it looks right. And then you can take a picture of it. You can also zoom in on parts of the car, open the doors, and look inside to see the detail like the stitching on the seat of a McLaren 720S.

“We always look to do with this game is to push technical innovation and do things that other people aren’t doing,” said Thomas Hooper, lead designer at Natural Motion. “We’re leveraging ARKit to bring car collection to people in a new way.”

Zynga is making the feature available for free so that fans can stay even more engaged with the game, said Frank Gibeau, CEO of Zynga, in an interview with GamesBeat.

“We didn’t realize that the details were this rich,” Gibeau said. “People are having fun show their friends a picture of their new Ferrari in their own driveways. It moved from a gimmick to something that really enhanced the CSR Racing 2 gameplay experience.”

Above: You can see inside cars with the augmented reality feature of CSR 2.

Image Credit: Zynga

Since debuting in June 2016, CSR Racing 2 has dominated the racing game charts and won praise as an authentic drag racing experience on mobile. Zynga’s developers work closely with car manufacturers to get accurate versions of the vehicles in the game, from paint colors and finishes to interior leather colors and trims. With AR, the idea is to take the authenticity one step further.

Hooper showed me a Ferarri F40 car (which has an 18-month waiting list in the real world) using the AR mode. He scanned the surface of the ground first with the smartphone, as it takes a while for the camera to figure out exactly where the floor is. It then figures out how to place the car on the floor. The feature was built with Unity’s AR platform and Apple’s ARKit.

He “exploded” the car by pulling all of the parts out and I was able to inspect each part of the car from all points of view. You can turn the phone or you can tap the screen to move the point of view.

Above: There’s my McLaren 720S.

Image Credit: Zynga

“We can step in and get the details of what is in the car, like the stitching on the seats,” Hooper said. “You can get a sense of what it is like to sit in the seat of one of these cars.”

When it comes to sharing, you can take photos or videos of a car in a real-world environment and then share it on social media channels. As for making money from the feature, Gibeau said, “Not every feature needs to monetize. Some features just show that it’s a quality game. It’s a valuable thing that makes people feel good.”

As for augmented reality, Gibeau said, “I’m a big believer in AR technology. It’s early days. There will be ways to build AR games. For some products, you can mix the real world and  the synthetic world in the game, and that will be enduring and part of the core loop. Zynga is very bullish on it.”

Above: Thomas Hooper of Zynga shows off AR in CSR Racing 2.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

A small team worked on the AR technology, and they interacted closely with Apple.

Hooper said it would be nice one day to enable AR racing in the game, where you can race game cars down the real streets of San Francisco. But that would take too much processing power at the moment to blend the real world and a car in a racing game.

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