Infinite Scuba Virtual Diving; Our DEMA 2012 best in show

We first saw Cascade Foundry’s (CGF) Infinite Scuba™ reality based scuba game at the most recent DEMA Show, the Dive Equipment and Marketing Association trade show. We found it so compelling we gave it our “Best in Show” award. To be a ScubaGadget best in show winner a product must have the potential to provoke a fundamental change that ripples throughout the dive industry. Not only did we see great potential here, but the the game was also selected as a finalist in the Seattle Independent Game Competition. It it plays and is marketed well, Infinite Scuba could bring the about another “Sea Hunt” moment in diver acquisition. Additionally, it could stimulate a strategic infliction point for dive equipment/service vendors in the “way they go” to market. That was then. We held off on the publishing our full review until the game was released. Infinite Scuba™ is now available to purchase ($10 US online) and play.

The Product

Infinite Scuba™ is a “reality-based, environmentally-respectful video game that enables players to experience the beauty, mystery, and serenity of scuba diving and treasure hunting in exotic real-world locations.” It is much more than just a flight simulator for scuba. It is fun “edutainment” which includes components of dive training, wildlife identification, and history.

While the game bears some similarity to DiveNav’s eDiving virtual scuba program which debuted a few years back, it was the differences that impressed us and gave us more hope for this product. The difference is in the fundamental philosophy of the two companies. While they are both simulation/learning games, the eDiving is much more of a scuba diving simulator and focuses more on training and a technically realistic experience. In fact, Dive Nav partners with many dive computer manufactures to help divers learn their new dive computers. But eDivings adherence to the simulator model can also make the user experience a bit frustrating. Kathie Flood, co-founder of CGF put it this way… “If you crashed your flight simulator airplane on most of the flights you would easily get discouraged.” Infinite Scuba™ on the other hand focuses on “reality based fun.” They are passionate to make their virtual dive experiences realistic. But if it comes to a choice between reality and fun, fun wins. That’s why we think Infinite Scuba™ holds a great chance of inspiring the broader market of non-divers to look for a dive class after playing. While playing Infinite Scuba™, players use and collect branded scuba gear, identify wildlife, and take photos to share with friends, all the while learning about history and diving science. As long as your system meet the requirements (more later) you can download a copy for only $10 and give it a try.

Branding

Infinite Scuba™ is not only a fun game but is also a promotional tool for vendors. Dive industry market research clearly shows that the brand of dive equipment a new divers buys is overwhelmingly related to the equipment that their dive instructor was using. It is no leap then to assume that if non-divers transition from this game to a dive class, they would be pre-disposed to buy ScubaPro, BARE, WaterProof, Cressi Sub or one of the other product sponsored brands of virtual gear they have been using in the game.

They may also want to learn at a PADI dive training center, which is currently the only dive center to hook-up with the game. We believe the PADI sponsorship may have a paradoxical ramification that is not limited to taking a bite out of the bottom line of the other training agencies. It could actually inhibit Infinite Scuba’s market penetration. We could foresee that SSI, NAUI and other affiliated agencies’ dive shops would not be very likely to encourage their customers to purchase and play a game tagged with only the PADI logo. The PADI branding also links players directly PADI training centers and resorts.

We painted this scenario for Kathie Flood and asked if she had thought about this and if the other agencies could still get involved. She replied that she would love to have other agencies on board. In fact, with enough interest they could build branded version for each agency. But during  further interviews with staff at Cascade Foundry, SSI and NAUI we learned that the situation was more complex given CGF’s early sponsorship pathway. The initial contacts CGF made with the certification agencies was when they walked up to PADI, SSI and NAUI booths at the 2011 DEMA Show with only a prototype of the game and talked with whomever was available. In some ways just due to the luck of the draw, the PADI contact showed interest and the SSI and NAUI staff that happened to be at the boot expressed concern that their agency may be concerned because there was no buddy dive component in the game.

These conversations eventually led to CGF entering into their current exclusive arrangement with PADI. So it turned out the decision makers at SSI and NAUI may never have had a chance to review the game. That was true of Watson Devore, SSI’s director of education. He had not heard of it and said “he would be happy to look at the game” to see if it was a good fit as an SSI partner.

Overall we think that dive industry vendors should explore the potential of getting their branding on this game. We can imagine that after non-divers make a few hundred virtual dives, when they are ready to look for their first set of gear, they are going to be thinking about the gear they used during the game.

Live Play Experience

The game has been officially released to the public and the $10 price tag makes it a low risk to give it a go. We downloaded the game onto three very different computers and gave it a try. We quickly were made aware of two factors. First, like many software packages, this “early release version” really feels more like a “late beta version.” The good news is that it will get better and the CGF has made it easy for updates to happen quickly in the background. Cascade staff are making new versions as fast as they can update the game and fix bugs.

Secondly, you need to pay close attention to the system requirements. We were told that it runs well on most Macs (but not at all on iPad  or other tablets yet). On Windows computers you currently need a good graphics card with 1mb of ram and preferably a 64 bit operating system. Even though we did manage to get it to run on a seven year old 32 bit Widows PC with only 256kb ram on the graphics card, we had to really reduce the resolution. On well endowed machines the graphics are pleasantly realistic and compelling.

The Cascade staff told us that are constantly finding ways to save memory and make the game better on the lower powered computers. They hope to have it going on tablets soon.

We, the main ScubaGadget staff are not avid gamers. So, we approached this review as a chance to see how it felt to divers and potential divers who are not necessarily gamers. We will have a gamer review soon and update this article in the future.

In the first release you are given a chance to dive in the famous Chuuk Lagoon among World War II wrecks covered with marine live. History notes and descriptions of the sea life are available on start-up and through out play.

There were a few moments of user frustration in the beginning of the game. We suspect gamers will not have any of this anxiety but we were confused by the some of the opening screens that just sat there for a while and some of the instructions could have been made more clear. After poking around a bit you can find it easy to “dive”, but it we hope they make it even more intuitive soon. We finned around the wreck and got deep enough to experience narcosis and recovered to get our deep diving certificate. After complaining that she could not get her face out of the sand, it seem like one tester wanted to give up. But then she got hooked and continued. It will be interesting to see if the game appeals to both genders.

We liked that you could dive while watching yourself from any perspective but we were a bit disappointed that there was no option for a view from inside the dive mask.  CGF commented that they want you to see what you’re looking and have the Zen of being underwater. They are looking into ways that different masks might impact the view, but without sacrificing the fun.

All and all it was a fun experience for the short time we played. Only time and developer updates will tell if the game has sticking power among and/or will inspire new divers.

The Team

The team behind the Infinite Scuba are both divers and a well experienced selection of  veterans from Microsoft’s Aces Studio who previously worked on the Flight and Train simulators. They have learned, however, that while being a startup allows them full creative control and flexibility, it does not give them the backing and support of a big corporation to handle the related tasks. This is most evident in their website which was put up in a rush and put on the back burner during development.

The Buzz

The buzz is starting to build and CGF is in negotiations with some major nature media companies. They are also playing a part in the “Sea Monsters Revealed” exhibition at MOSI (Museum of Science and Industry) in Tampa, Florida which runs through the fall. The exhibit is similar to the human anatomy exhibits that now circle the globe but with sea life including a 3000 pound whale shark and a giant squid.

Even though we found a few rough edges, Infinite Scuba is well worth the price to download, play and watch the evolution as the developers upload newer versions. The game can be purchased and downloaded at http://www.infinitescuba.com


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