Carnival Corporation is making a serious investment in video game development, both through original mobile games and specially designed interactive experiences aboard its ships.

Princess Cruises is the first of Carnival’s nine brands to implement the on-board gaming strategy, beginning with the November launch of the Regal Princess. But Carnival’s PlayOcean gaming brand expands beyond Princess’ new Medallion Class ships, targeting the global mobile gaming audience.

John Padgett, chief experience and innovation officer for Carnival Corporation, told AListDaily that PlayOcean taps into the growing interest in mobile gaming by offering a selection of original games through two free downloadable mobile apps. PlayOcean Everywhere launched yesterday with a suite of four free-to-play iOS and Android mobile social multiplayer games, including Queen Sea Poker, Tipsy Tentacles Slots, Roulette on Deck and Bingo on Deck. PlayOcean Casino will debut in mid-November in tandem with the Regal Princess’ Caribbean sailings.

“Mobile gaming is all about interactivity with guests,” Padgett explained. “Traditionally cruising had defined gaming as equal to casinos, but casino gaming is just one dimension of gaming itself. We decided to take a much broader interpretation of gaming to be more inclusive to more people. That’s why we developed a portfolio of games that you can play for free without even being on a cruise ship.”

PlayOcean Everywhere will continue to add new titles over time. Carnival has enlisted console game development studios like PipeWorks, Epic Reach and Heavy Iron Studios, as well veteran Disney video game developers like Rich Criado and Ryan Rothenberger, to oversee the new extension of its brand. Padgett said this initiative will increase awareness and engagement with its cruise brands globally.

“As the digital and physical spaces begin to converge, we want to immerse our guests,” Padgett said. “Games are one of the best forms of interaction. Our focus is not to sell games. We’re after creating interaction and engagement.”

Carnival Corporation celebrated the official availability of PlayOcean on Thursday with an event in Times Square that synchronized multiple digital billboards to showcase the new games, as well as an activation center where people learned more about the gaming initiative.

Padgett previously worked with Disney Parks and Resorts to launch the MagicBand connected experience at the Walt Disney World Resort. He said before digital games existed, people would immerse themselves in fantasy-related activities extracted from the reality of theme parks.

“Now, with connectivity, great guest experiences are no longer constrained to theme parks,” Padgett explained. “The barriers have been broken down and companies like Carnival Corporation can step in. Because we operate around the world without boundaries with a fleet of ships that have many different flavors and styles, as well as trains, lodges and islands, we can add a digital element of engagement. The cruise industry accounts for two percent of global hotel rooms. When we expand the perception that the cruise is just one stage in a world of persistent interactivity, it’s a pretty big deal.”

Criado previously worked with Padgett on the MagicBand project for five years, which included work connecting that technology with the Disney Infinity game to unlock exclusive content at sea that could be played with at home.

That same concept of blending the real and virtual worlds will come to life when passengers board the Regal Princess. PlayOcean Casino is the first of a series of games that will allow passengers to bet real money on mobile devices. The PlayOcean Everywhere versions of all games will use virtual currency in the form of clams, which can be earned for free or purchased through the app.

“We’ve taken every game genre or category that exists in mobile and created a game in that category from family to traditional gambling,” Criado explained. “We’ve created characters and stories behind these games that make people want to engage with them at a different level. We didn’t want to recreate the Vegas experience. For Tipsy Tentacles Slots, we created characters like Tipsy the Octopus bartender who’s not very good as a bartender. He’s trying to help you play the slot machine game, but all the while he’s trying to serve you and guests drinks.”

Criado said that the concept of connecting the game world and virtual is also wired into the ship itself. When gamers log on to they create a personalized Tagalong avatar based on a turtle, seahorse or butterfly fish. This avatar is persistent across the Compass app, but also appears on the ship throughout the cruise experience. Stateroom TVs will feature this avatar and also serve up exclusive games like Tagalong Sprint that can be played using mobile devices as controllers.

Throughout the ship, 125 4K touchscreen monitors will reveal these avatars as sensors register the Medallions that each passenger carries on board. These avatars will even be featured on the giant 4K on the top deck digital outdoor movie screen, where different video game challenges like This or That can be played using any mobile device as a controller.

Criado said guests can also collect charms for their Tagalongs across a number of categories like status, destinations, celebrations, recognition, PlayOcean, events and entertainment, onboard, mood and interests. Three charms can be displayed at any time and appear with the Tagalong.

Another example of an exclusive onboard gaming experience is Ocean Treks Adventure, a digital scavenger hunt featuring American nature conservationist and TV host Jeff Corwin, who leads guests on quests throughout the ship to solve puzzles, follow mobile clues and answer riddles. The game sends passengers to various touchscreen displays, where simple 2D animated video games unlock information about key historical figures from the Caribbean. The Medallions track individual progress and unlock Tagalongs at different stations along the way. Three adventures will be available at launch with the goal of adding more over time.

“We’re exploring a dimension that hasn’t been done before that demonstrates to the guest that there’s a digital dimension to everything physical, whether you see it or not, and it’s there to enhance your experience,” Padgett said.

Princess has multiple Medallion Class ships rolling out over the next few years. The technology built into these Princess ships can be integrated across other Carnival brands like Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America Line and Cunard in the future.

Both Padgett and Criado said this interactive voyage for Carnival Corporation is just beginning.