Sabay Osja has become the first gaming studio in Cambodia to employ augmented reality (AR) – the technology made famous mainly through Pokemon Go, which blends virtual images layered over the real world – through an eccentric smartphone app promoting both cultural traditions and the local currency.
Created by 18 Cambodian developers and designers from the studio, most of whom are in their 20s, Osja AR lets users interact with Cambodian riel notes. When a smartphone is held above a bill, an image appears on the screen.
For example, a 100 riel note allows the user to play a fishing game, while the 500 riel and 1,000 riel note together produce a pair of Robam Kngok Pailin (Pailin Peacock Dance) performers, a folk tradition that originated with the Kuala people in Pailin, along with music traditionally performed during the dance.
The 2,000-riel note, which has a picture of Preah Vihear temple on it, gives users a glimpse of the actual structure. Meanwhile, the 5,000 and 10,000-riel notes, respectively, produce moving images of the monkey king Hanuman from Cambodian epic the Reamker and the ogre in Lakhon Khol, Cambodia’s masked dance theater.
Ear Uy, the CEO and a co-founder of Sabay Osja, hopes that this first Cambodian AR app will promote the use of riel in the dollar-dominated economy.
“Sabay Osja will increase the demand of riel in the economy because people will keep more riel notes so that they can use them with the app for entertainment, thus strengthening the national currency, which is an important economic factor and national identity,” he said.
The app also has a cultural mission. The images, he hopes, will foster appreciation of traditional cultural forms among Cambodians, especially the young generation. The cartoon characters of Hanuman and the ogre, for example, could motivate youngsters to support Lakhon Khol, which is at risk of disappearing.
Chivalry Yok, another co-founder and the creative director who supervised the development of Osja AR, says his team spent about two months creating it and not without problems.
“Of course, it is not easy making anything so completely new, and we failed so many times in the first place,” Chivalry says. “But, we worked hard and tried to learn from our failures, as well as from other countries where this technology is already in use broadly.”
Created in 2011 by four gamers, Osja Studio was the country’s first gaming company, later changing its name to Sabay Osja. It won the 2014 ASEAN Character Award for its depiction of the protagonist in the puzzle game Asva the Monkey.
Since the release of Osja AR last month, the app has been downloaded more than 40,000 times as of this week. Both Uy and Yok hope it will help to open the door for augmented reality to be used in other sectors in the country. The company is currently working towards using the technology to promote its events.
“Besides video games, AR has been used in sectors like the medical, architectural and navigational fields in some developed countries,” Uy says. “Osja AR could be the first step toward that level of information technological advancement in Cambodia.”