GameScent proves that people will always try to reinvent Smell-O-Vision

black GameScent device on wooden table
(Image credit: Future)

Smell-O-vision, scratch n’ sniff cards, the more recent ‘electric smell,’ and far more examples all strived to incorporate scent into the media experience. It’s understandable why, as scent is the strongest sense tied to memory, so it’s natural to want to harness that to create a more visceral and immersive experience.

However, each time the efforts either fail spectacularly or simply peter out into nothing after much fanfare. But why? Most failures stem from the method used not working at all, simply being so ineffective that it doesn’t augment the visual media experience, or it works but fails to integrate into the media to enhance it in any meaningful way.

GameScent is looking to change this pattern of failure, however, by harnessing the power of current technology to add a variety of scents to the best PC games and more, which would add even more value to the best gaming PCs and best gaming laptops. And they claim that this tech will be compatible with every current gaming console on the market. How does this work? And does it work effectively? I got some hands-on time with the product to see for myself.

How does it work?

The first breakthrough GameScent had was addressing how its product would figure out what scents to generate during natural gameplay, and the issue turned out to be deep learning audio AI. It was realized that by training AI to correctly recognize various audio cues in a game, that dataset could then be correlated to what smell should be dispersed. According to the company, creating these triggering events turned out to be over 80% success rate.

Next, the device itself is loaded with essential oils that correlate to various scents, then ultrasound vibrations are generated using special rods as its atomizer. The essential oils are dispersed throughout the air at regular intervals, which is chosen by the AI based on what triggering events it’s been trained on.

So far there are five scents currently out – gunfire, race car, storm, forest, and explosions – plus a neutralizing agent that clears the air and keeps too much scent to overwhelm gamers. Four to six more scents are planned for April 2024, with an expectation of 20-30 by the end of 2024.

Does it work well?

Now here’s the million-dollar question: and the answer is mostly, but with some caveats. The tech is all there and it actually works, including what I saw of the app that controls the activation and how long each smoke cycle is (the default is one minute between each puff of smoke). The essential oils do smell like they’re supposed to thanks to the engineers who developed them. And the gunpowder one was not pleasant, which is a very good thing.

There's a wireless adapter that can connect the device to PC, PS5, Xbox Series X, Nintendo Switch, and most other gaming consoles. It can also use a wired connection as well, adding even more versatility. And it's meant to work with any video game since the AI just needs to record the audio cues from games and then apply them.

The GameScent was mainly demoed with Far Cry 6, as it possessed multiple scent profiles that would demonstrate the range of the product. When the GameScent first activated during gameplay, I eagerly awaited the heavy smell of gunpowder and car tires. Instead, the process was more gradual than I hoped, with a generic perfume smell filling the office for a moment. Eventually, the proper smells did reach my nose but by then the gameplay it was meant to correlate with already passed.

It works but, depending on several factors like the room size and how quickly gameplay changes and moves, it can greatly vary the effectiveness of the smells and how they match with your gameplay experience.

black GameScent device on wooden table

(Image credit: Future)

Is it worth getting?

I only had a limited time period with the GameScent and it did impress me overall. It’s a clearly well-thought-out and well-built device with some excellent tech behind it. Using audio AI to map out sounds that then correlate to scents is honestly genius, and it was fascinating watching the tech work in action.

That said, it still feels like the tech isn’t fully there yet. And that could be fixed in the future once the GameScent receives more community feedback, scents to work with, etc. Or it could be a symptom of the longstanding issue with trying to incorporate scent technology into media – which is to say, it doesn’t work very well.

Other senses like sight, sound, and feel work because experiencing them is almost instantaneous. Thanks to the technology involved and the nature of those senses, you can see visuals right away, the sound coming from the speakers hits your ears in less than a fraction of a second, and touch tech is sufficiently advanced thanks to haptic feedback.

But no matter what, scent seems to elude the media experience. While scent is the strongest sense related to memory, it’s also very subjective and many factors can interfere with its interaction. A larger room, like the one I tried out GameScent in, can mean a much longer diffusion period. The speed at which action changes and modifies during a gameplay session can mess up the timing, which is pivotal in matching the smell to the scene. Though thankfully the device does manage to accurately capture the actual scent itself, once diffusion is complete.

The GameScent is $179.99 (about ) including the five scent bottles plus neutralizer, out now at major US retailers, and is compatible with PC as well as every major game console. That said, it’s difficult for me to recommend this product as is right now, especially without thorough testing. If you have the extra cash and are curious, it’s a fun buy. But if you can afford to wait, then do so to better gauge whether the tech will improve in due time.

You might also like

Allisa James
Computing Staff Writer

Named by the CTA as a CES 2023 Media Trailblazer, Allisa is a Computing Staff Writer who covers breaking news and rumors in the computing industry, as well as reviews, hands-on previews, featured articles, and the latest deals and trends. In her spare time you can find her chatting it up on her two podcasts, Megaten Marathon and Combo Chain, as well as playing any JRPGs she can get her hands on.