By on March 29, 2019

The Mercedes-Benz-sponsored “In-Car Gaming Challenge” isn’t exactly breaking news. Daimler made the announcement almost a week ago, with the story only gaining traction online thanks to a slower-than-usual news cycle. Frankly, we originally planned to ignore the topic entirely — until we realized no one discussed the broader implications.

That probably sounds more ominous than it should. Essentially, Mercedes is trying to diversify its business by getting into video games. But the potential ramifications stemming from that change could be felt across the automotive industry in the coming years. Daimler isn’t just seeking game-related business ventures — it’s trying to figure out how to make life inside an autonomous vehicle more appetizing.

Assuming the autonomous revolution goes off as planned, motorists will soon have an abundance of free time on their hands. Mercedes wants to fill that gap with games. In fact, it’s looking to students, graduates, established game developers, and startups for help in developing an “immersive gaming” experience. For Benz, immersive gaming includes utilizing a vehicle’s controls to create an atmosphere that allows users to “feel totally involved in the game.”

While this setup naturally lends itself to racing simulators, Daimler wants to keep its options open. It already showcased the might of its MBUX infotainment system at the Mobile World Congress, allowing attendees to play a Mario Kart clone using a normal-looking CLA. That was the jumping-off point. Mercedes is now pitting developers against each other for a 10,000-euro prize and says they can enter just about anything they want. Additional rewards include smaller bundles of cash, tickets to Electronic Sports League tournaments, and further help with a game’s development. The contest’s stated goal is to gather the best gaming ideas for “passenger cars, buses and mobile apps.”

From Daimler:

The Challenge can be entered in three categories, for passenger cars, buses and as a mobile app. As well as games that can already be played in a parked car, we are looking for gaming experiences for the self-driving car of the future. The aim is for vehicle occupants to use their time just as they wish.

Variants for bus passengers can also be submitted. The trip can become a journey into another world, which virtual reality excitingly blends with the real world and the surroundings. As the travelling time of a bus on a defined route is easily calculable, the programmes can be perfectly adapted to suit. Whether action, racing or role-playing games, the vehicle occupants can play together or against each other. If the occupants of a bus form a team, they can also compete against teams in another bus or other vehicles. A mobile app can bring people together in this way: completely new competitions or championships can be created.

A mobile app for the smartphone or other devices also makes it possible to play the games in any means of transport and in any location – whether in a train, aircraft, hotel or in the home.

Mobile games, especially those involving micro-transactions and a multiplayer component, are a big business right now. Even though they’re not consistently profitable, developers have learned they require much less work/capital to create — and can reel in more users than traditional video games as they are frequently “free to play.” The more committed members of the gaming community have come out against them, claiming they’re often of low quality and utilize concepts similar to a slot machine to encourage people to repeatedly invest small sums of money.

Automakers already have a captive audience and, whether deployed thoughtfully or not, they stand to make a sizable profit with mobile apps if they’re smart — and Daimler is. In fact, the company recently updated its “Mercedes me” to include on-board purchases via a virtual store. At the time, we praised it for avoiding the gamification we saw on Honda’s Dream Drive.

If Benz can’t restrain itself, that may have been our last opportunity.

As advances in technology provide exciting new avenues for companies to explore, we’re consistently paranoid that it will all coalesce into predatory in-car marketing and a series of digital distractions nobody asked for, especially after cars become proficient in driving themselves. Still, there’s nothing inherently wrong with someone playing a driving game behind the wheel of a car that can pilot itself down the road. We just hope future generations appreciate the irony.

[Images: Daimler AG]

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