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Mobile Games Unconference

by • 20 Apr, 2010 • TechnologyComments (18)3360

Mobile games and museums, wrap up of post-MW2010 unconference session

Although the most popular location based mobile games, Foursquare and Gowalla, still have limited user bases, their potential is huge. At the moment, Facebook has over 100 million mobile users, a number that is growing with the second.

As a part of the official post-MW2010 programme, Paul Stork and I hosted an unconference session about mobile games and museums. These are my notes, please add your thoughts and opinions through the comments. I’ll add them to the post to create a full document on mobile games and museums.

What is mobile gaming?

Both Foursquare and Gowalla work alike. Based on your location you can check in to a venue, be it a bar, a museum, or whatever. By doing so you let your friends know your location, but you also enter a competition. You can earn badges, become the mayor of a place, score points, etc.

In addition to that, people can leave “tips” at a venue. Other visitors can see these tips. For instance, to eat a certain burger or to see a certain painting. Limited marketing options are also available.

For both Foursquare and Gowalla you need a smartphone and an internet connection. Mobile apps are available for all major platforms. Your location is determined with GPS or similar services.

Meaningful service and engaging gameplay

When it comes to mobile games, the old dispute between education and entertainment fires up again. However, there’s consensus on what is most important.

“You have to start with a great gaming experience.”

People first have to like to play the game. If you then can add some useful content or learning objectives to the game, that’s a great plus. It all starts with the gameplay, though. Take, for instance, the Science Museum’s Launchball, which – as one of the participants put it – simply a great game to play.

“Do something people do every day and connect them to your institution through that.”

“Mobile gaming is gaming on their (the gamer’s) terms.”

You can use existing platforms or build new mobile games, as long as they do not interfere with people’s normal usage of mobile games. Checking in, collecting badges and leaving tips are enough tools to design great gaming experiences.

Don’t go fancy on your game design either. All great gaming concepts have been discovered and there are only a few that actually work.

Competition and rewards

Competition is an important element of mobile games. With Foursquare and Gowalla, rewards are purely digital, however as one participant mentioned:

“The physical reward is underrated.”

People enjoy physical rewards. Both Museum Boerhaave and Beeld en Geluid have had good experiences with rewarding online participation with small physical rewards.

Altruism can be a reason for people to participate in games. This means you can have volunteers put things on platforms like Foursquare. For instance: historical locations or cultural heritage.

To make this successful, it is suggested that,

“Mobile gaming should be part of a (marketing) strategy.”

This strategy should involve various platforms and consistent ways of rewarding. This strategy could even be inter-institutional. Different museums in one city could work together. If a user has visited all museums, they get a reward.

Most participants agreed that it doesn’t hurt if people just run around town to check in to all venues to win the award. Throughout the competition they might pick up a thing or two.

Connecting with your collection

Beeld en Geluid, the audio and video archive of the Netherlands, explained a project in which they added material from their archive to physical objects in the country. People who visit one of these objects get access to the related archival material.

Locations could be tagged with objects from a collection. Imagine an “add this to Foursquare” button in your online collection, which allows users to position it at the exact physical location of the object. When people check in to this location, they get the object plus a link to its online location as a tip.

Foursquare’s API (probably) allows these kinds of actions. The “add this to Foursquare” button might then even be added to Europeana, to make all European cultural heritage available on location.

Objects can be games

Objects can be games themselves. Hide and seek, treasure hunts, trails, etc. are based around objects and their (contemporary) location. Gowalla even uses digital objects to encourage participation. These objects can be “found” by checking into specific places and can be added to a personal inventory.

At the moment these are objects like “a cheesecake”, but what if we add 100,000 of the world’s best cultural heritage in Gowalla. All of a sudden people might be collecting pre-Columbian art or Picassos.

It really gets interesting when people start competing for objects, like in flag capture.

Encourage discovery

Foursquare and Gowalla allow you to check in where you already go. As someone put it:

“Foursquare encourages you to be boring. Location based games should encourage discovery.”

Because mobile games have the surprise effect of “tips” and location based suggestions, they are great tools for discovery. Maybe they don’t have you discover new places, but they can give users more information about the location they’re at.

Paid or free games

Simply put, you can charge people for great gameplay, not for information.

Existing platforms such as Foursquare can be used to develop mobile games cheaply. It’s a pre to use an existing or web based platform so people don’t have to download a separate app for your mobile game.

However, organisation specific apps can be used to better cater the information needs of the people who are already in your audience. You can help them experience your museum better with up-to-date tools.

A combination of platforms helps to make a full mobile gaming strategy.

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