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4 Ways to Invest in Games

Christine Giordano

The love for games is becoming more evident as crowds of people gather in public spaces, holding their phones in odd positions to battle fictional video game creatures from Pokemon Go superimposed over real-life scenery.

It's hard to ignore the news reports of people walking off cliffs or breaking into houses as they become fully immersed in their video game world. Games are getting more elaborate. They're electrifying workplaces through a culture of gamification, and enhancing our everyday lives.

Here are four ways investors can engage in gaming.

Know companies profiting from augmented reality. Pokemon Go, launched July 6, is worth about $3.65 billion. It was created by the Alphabet (ticker: GOOG, GOOGL) spinoff Niantic and is on track to make $740 million in revenue this year, according to Quartz.

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In connection, "Apple (AAPL) is poised to make billions of dollars from Pokemon as they get a cut of things from the app store," says Todd Richmond, IEEE Member and director of prototype development at University of Southern California's Institute of Creative Technologies.

Nintendo owns the Pokemon Co., but said in a statement that because it didn't create the game, its success would only have a limited impact on finances. So the lesson here is to research who the augmented reality creators are.

Look beyond Pokemon. In virtual reality, you put a headset on to see a place that seems real. Augmented reality (AR) is when fictional events or things are superimposed over real life places -- like when Pokemon creatures are placed in the middle of your city park.

Mark Skwarek, director of New York University's Mobile Augmented Reality Lab and chief executive of Semblance AR, often tests projects a year before they're launched.

As successful as Pokemon is, it is only an introduction meant to capture all ages, and all kinds of phones, Skwarek says.

"It is a watered down version of AR to make it safer," he says, so people get accustomed to the technology. Tracking technology is used for computers to superimpose onto the real world.

Also emerging is the Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) HoloLens, which places objects in the physical world with advanced depth mapping technology that functions like rearview and sideview mirrors, Skwarek says. The future of this technology could have a safety feature that allows you more real-world awareness, like the ability to see cars approaching behind you, he says.

Meta AR has mapping technology that allows to put your hands inside objects, which plays with your senses, Skwarek says. When he reached inside a globe, for example, he says, "I could actually feel it, as though it was touching the hairs on my arm."

According to warable.com, Meta is giving people a true taste of AR. It already supports Spotify, Adobe Creative Suite and Microsoft Office, and could create holographic phone calls in the future.

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HTC Vive allows you to walk inside the video game, so it is considered more virtual reality than augmented reality. But it plays with your senses so much that Skwarek says he could feel the heat of the laser weaponry slice through the air.

Skwarek, who has been in the AR space since 2000, says "HTC Vive was so good that, the second after I used it, I called my stockbroker and I said, 'I want to buy HTC Vive stock.' It's one of the coolest things that I've ever used in my entire life."

HTC Vive is creating something that Facebook's (FB) Oculus Rift will have to answer to, Skwarek adds. "It's similar to the Oculus Rift, but much, much better," he says.

Lenovo has partnered with Google Tango and is putting mapping technology sensors inside phones to allow the phones to see in 3D.

"I think this is big," Skwarek says.

Identify effective corporate gamification programs. "Airlines are adept at using games to lure customer loyalty. Virgin America's Elevate program, for example, sponsored games that were played by passengers on competing airplanes, with a party at the gate for the winning team when they arrived," says Howard Schneider of Kobie Marketing.

According to the firm's research, scoreboards which show passenger upgrades to first class in a ranking order of elite status -- based on airline loyalty -- were effective at engaging men, while higher levels of personalization were more engaging to women, says Kate Hogenson of Kobie.

If you're looking to invest in a brand that might interest millennials, look to companies that "let people interact with the brand on their own terms," she says.

"With retail investments, look at how robust their loyalty efforts are," Schneider says. "And if they have direct lines to their customers."

John Findlay, co-founder of Launchfire, a digital engagement shop that gamifies consumer marketing and employee training, says investors in corporate gamification should seek companies that build games to nest the messaging that needs to be conveyed.

For example, when the Canadian government suffered a data breach from a misplaced thumb drive, an audit showed it needed to improve employee training for classified documents. Findlay found the information employees were to learn "ridiculously boring" and used his company to create four games to teach employees to file, classify and protect information.

The game showed employees were quickly learning the information, and also revealed where the most severe knowledge gaps were, with the most liability.

Pete Wassell's Augmate is doing a Series A offering, seeking $6 million, for eight new smartglasses that can be used to relay information to employees that work with their hands. The device offers security control, and can also be used to gamify productivity by creating office teams to compete with real time updates.

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Create a Pokemon lure for your business. A sought-after item can increase foot traffic during slower times.

"You'll see this with like, doughnut shops, coffee shops -- businesses can buy what they call 'lures' within the game, that they will place on their location," says Josh King of the online legal marketplace Avvo.

Christine Giordano is a freelance business journalist with a passion to help consumers make educated decisions. Also a columnist for Newsday, you can follow her on Twitter @chrisgiordano.