With virtual and augmented reality being such hot items these days, it seems like it would take a team of programmers working year-round in order to make something in this realm. But what if there was a tool that made it easy to create your own augmented reality quests…one that only used your own phone and the push of a button?

Metaverse Team

Miller, left, and Thielen consider consider how an app might interact with a local environment.

Metaverse is an app for your iPhone which will take the world around you and allow you to step into a new reality. Created by Jonathan Miller (BA/PRA ’15) and Sean Thielen (BA/English ’15), this new app will change how you view the world around you.

Six short months after Miller’s graduation last year, both he and Thielen teamed up with Dmitry Shapiro, a former Google engineer, and launched the company. With help from 23 angel investors, including former Disney CEO Michael Eisner, former CEO of MySpace Mike Jones, and many engineers from Google & Microsoft, they were able to raise $2 million in seed money to launch the app.

“We wanted to put the power into people’s hands to make things happen,” says Miller. “We want people to be able to make engaging augmented reality experiences without having to code anything.”

By October 1st, they had a cured version of the app, and launched it with a scavenger hunt in San Diego. They created a story where an alien crash landed on Earth, and it was up to the people playing to help find all five parts of the ship they lost.

“For added incentive, there was a cash prize of $500 for the first person to finish,” says Thielen. “But doing that was a good way to get people to test the app for us.” And help it did, as hundreds of people showed up to try to win. The huge turnout even resulted in the local CBS station doing a story on them, gaining them a little more publicity. It went so well that they did two more scavenger hunts; one in Santa Monica and another for Halloween, also in Los Angeles.

“We want people to use Metaverse for telling their own stories,” says Miller. “Michael Eisner told us it was a new interactive form of media.”

Both Miller and Thielen have always enjoyed telling stories, but when Pokemon GO erupted last year, they felt they could do more for the medium. They believe that if you give people the tools, they can do much more, and will create their own experiences in augmented reality.

Once someone opens the app, it opens a map of the surrounding area. If no “official” quests are nearby, the app will automatically spawn images algorithmically around them. For example, you might see the floating head of Jennifer Anniston around the corner from you, or perhaps a cartoon character who might task you with finding a virtual item for him.

When the father and son team of Evan and Scott Gordon wrote a book called The Tinker and the Fold, they used the app to create their own scavenger hunt around a shopping center where they held a book signing. Not only did it engage the crowd, but it also brought them into the world of the book, allowing them to live out an adventure of their own.

While the app is currently available on the iTunes Store, the development tools are still slowly being rolled out to creators. However, interested users can sign up to request access to the developer tools, to begin telling their own stories today.

“We are looking for more creative people to help tell these stories, to create these experiences,” says Thielen.

Once granted access, creators can upload their own graphics, or use the ones already in the app, to drag and drop scenes over a map of their location. From there, they can connect scenes together and make interactions, all in the name of creating a unique experience. Those with a little more coding experience are also welcome into the back end a bit to help expand upon their stories even more.

Of course the app is not just for these scavenger hunts. Users have create a tour of San Diego’s historic places, teachers have used it in their classes to create a more creative educational experience, restaurants have used it to host giveaways, and one man even used it as a way to propose to his girlfriend.

“We don’t know what people are going to come up with,” says Miller. “We build the pieces and have no idea how people are going to connect them. It’s very exciting.”

For more information on Metaverse, see www.gometa.io

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally appeared in the spring 2017 issue of In Production Magazine. Read other great articles, and catch up on older issues, by clicking here.