Mobile games for museums: SCVNGR & Hide&Seek

Games on mobile devices are a new way to engage museum visitors. Two companies gave presentations at yesterday’s Museums & Mobile 2011 online conference.

One popular type of game is a miniature scavenger hunt, called “location-gaming.” The premise is that players go places (e.g., a restaurant or park), do fast, simple tasks (like typing something into their phone, or uploading a photo of something), and win a reward (the reward can  virtual “points,” or something tangible, like a free postcard or sandwich). Other types of games are more thematic, such as creating playing-card “battles” between characters that appear in art.


The leading platform for location-gaming is SCVNGRwhich recently reached over 1 million users (people who have used the app on iPhone and Android phones) and has been funded with $15 million from Google and other venture funds.

SCVNGR’s business model centers on collecting fees from merchants who want customers to come to their businesses to play and receive rewards. In an interview with GigaOM, SCVNGR CEO Seth Priebatsch said that SCVNGR analyzed its data and found that it takes three visits by a consumer before they are likely to become a regular at a business or at least have that merchant at the top of their mind. For businesses, paying SCVNGR is a form of advertising.

Kellian Adams, the company’s museum education technologist presented SCVNGR to an audience of museum staff. The conference attendees were mostly unfamiliar with SCVNGR: according to a realtime poll, 46% had never heard of it, 40% had heard of it but never played, and only 6% have created a game with their tool.

Kellian said that SCVNGR can work for museums, with some adjustments. She said, “Originally I would just give museums SCVNGR access and tell them to have a nice day but it really didn’t work. People weren’t playing, the games weren’t so great so SCVNGR tasked me to make sure everything that happened at a museum was good.” In her presentation, she suggested that prizes like sunglasses and glowsticks are good for motivating gamers, and emphasized that regardless of the game design, the most common demographic is 18-35 year olds.

For History, Kellian said, “a great way to use SCVNGR is to connect history with modern locations,” with a quest that takes visitors to various locations in a community. It can also work well for science topics when visitors have distances to walk, such as in a zoo or botanical garden. (See a detailed article by Charles Outhier about SCVNGR at the National Zoo, and further discussion of SCVNGR for museums.)


For other kinds of games, London-based Hide&Seek, showcased their first art museum app, Tate Trumps, a card-game based app in which different paintings at the Tate Modern do battle, are collected, or examined by ‘mood.’ The free game is designed to be played while visitors are inside of the Tate Modern. As the Tate explains, “In Battle mode, you need to ask yourself the question, ‘If this artwork came to life, how good would it be in a fight?’. In Mood mode, you’re looking for artworks you think are menacing, exhilarating or absurd. Or, if you wish you had a gallery of your own, try Collector mode, and find pictures which are famous, recently produced or practical to house. Once you’ve formed your collection, meet up with your friends, and play a fun game of trumps to see who did the best.

According to Peter Law, development producer & creative project manager for Hide&Seek, games “can be used as marketing tools, to reach new audiences, or to change how people enjoy the galleries.” He says, “More than 20,000 games of Tate Trumps were played in the first two months after launch.” In the UK App Store, the app has 1020 ratings, averaging 2/5 stars; the most recent version fixes some bugs and has 23 ratings averaging 2.5/5 stars.

Law is enthusiastic about the future of mobile games for museums, saying, “Museums are really interesting right now. They’re looking for new ways to engage people and to encourage them to experience their collections.” His company makes a variety of games, and can readily adapt the format of Tate Trumps for other collections.

Update: Added clarifications for Hide&Seek

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