Got Game?

People love their games. Just look around you the next time you walk down the aisle on that airplane. Far more screens are filled with solitaire, Angry Birds and other games rather than serious business.

We work hard, we’re tired, we’re overwhelmed and, more than ever, it’s games, fueled by modern technology that provide a much-needed form of entertainment, distraction and relief. In fact, a study by the Entertainment Software Association showed that 72% of all American households play computer or video games with the average player being 37 years of age. Just as significantly, Nielsen says that games are the second-most popular internet activity after social networks but, amazingly, ahead of email.

With so many people already predisposed to the idea of gaming, it only makes sense that travel-related businesses are embracing the concept to enhance the overall visitor experience. Among the more popular approaches are scavenger hunts that have been modernized through mobile technology to create a more engaging and dynamic way for travelers to explore a destination.



One of the firms putting its unique twist on this approach is WhaiWhai, an Italy-based company that has developed an interactive game for such cities as Rome, Venice, Florence and Milan. Claiming that, “any city can become the setting for an adventure where you are the hero,” the company produces guidebooks comprised of jumbled short stories that can be deciphered when you receive clues through text messages and respond to a special number with the correct answer. Built around the legends, history and events of a destination, as you solve the riddles you’re given more clues and information which help to educate and lead you around the city. The game comes in standard and customized versions that can be adjusted for duration of play and difficulty. Originally developed as a paper product, their latest version for Manhattan is available electronically from the iPhone App Store.

Taking a similar approach is the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based company Stray Boots, offering interactive gaming tours for 13 U.S. cities, including New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and Seattle. Users sign up on the company’s website and receive their special code and game instructions via text message, then navigate through the city utilizing their cell phone’s GPS. You’re challenged to find landmarks, take photos and answer trivia. You can even type in “hint” if you find yourself stuck or “skip” to move ahead. As you complete the challenges you’ll earn points, making it easy to compete with friends and other travelers. A typical game lasts two to three hours, and each scavenger hunt costs about $12.

For those interested in creating your own version of a scavenger hunt, look to companies like SCVNGR, which offers a builder program that allows you to build treks for venues and events. That’s the route taken by VisitNorfolk (Virginia) which deployed its own SCVNGR treks to help visitors explore the city’s Ghent neighborhood and beyond. The platform enables location-based questions, riddles and other game-like activities all designed to highlight the unique aspects of the destination.

What’s so great about all these approaches is that they help to create an air of mystery, adventure and entertainment around a place, giving even local residents a fresh perspective. Another benefit is that they’re ideally suited for groups and families trying to find something that people of all ages can enjoy and, since they are totally self-guided, users can experience them at their own pace.

As you look to create your own scavenger hunt or other games, here are some things to consider:

  • Be sure the game helps to effectively tell your brand story and reinforces your key messages, while helping you achieve your overall business and marketing objectives. Also, make sure the game experience is consistent in quality and style with the other products and services you offer.
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel. Look to leverage an existing platform or tool. Companies like SCVNGR, MobileXpeditions and others all offer mobile platforms that make building a scavenger hunt or other gaming-related programs relatively easy and affordable.
  • Don’t make the challenge too easy, it will get boring. Or too hard, it will get frustrating.
  • The game has to be very easy to use and intuitive, so leverage existing game protocols and commands where you can.
  • Make sure you understand the technology your audience is most likely to be using and ideally have your game work across a variety of devices. If you’re a hotel, perhaps you even have smartphones that guests can borrow so that everyone can participate.
  • If you’re involving other businesses (like on a scavenger hunt), let them know. They’ll be grateful for the attention and better prepared to support your users if they’re informed.
  • Find ways to reward people. Let them see the progress they are making throughout the gaming experience.
  • Create ways for people to share the game and invite others to collaborate and compete against each other.

Here’s an opportunity for virtually every travel brand, destination or attraction to become the ultimate gaming venue and deliver something fun, educational and engaging to the traveler.

Increasingly, travelers won’t just be asking if you’ve “got game?” but demanding that you do.

5 comments about "Got Game?".
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  1. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, December 12, 2011 at 9:09 a.m.

    I want to see the game, "Throw Alec From The Plane."

  2. Craig Colman from ISM, December 13, 2011 at 10:30 a.m.

    The low hanging fruit for these edutainment games are resorts, theme parks and CVBs.

    We were at Atlantis a few years ago and we would have loved an app to help us explore the expansive grounds and hidden nooks and crannies.

    Another area that could benefit greatly from location based games are museums. Most offer some type of scavenger hunt activity to keep children interested, but I could see good games creating a whole new generation of museum fans.

  3. kimberly murdock from ism, December 13, 2011 at 10:31 a.m.

    Great post! It’s true that today’s digital traveler sees marketing messages across a variety of different channels. Now more than ever, there is a need to capture the consumer’s attention in a fun and engaging way. For marketers looking to find or build a gaming platform, be certain to consider your brand’s audience. Get to know your users and build the game experience around them.

  4. karen weiner escalera from kwe partners, December 14, 2011 at 11:58 a.m.

    Excellent article Gary. Using games, or what is being called "gamification" is also increasingly a part of the value component. Consumers, even with luxury brands, want deal hunting to amuse and be fun.

  5. Scott Crider from Compass Media , December 14, 2011 at 4:24 p.m.

    I've been building branded games for tourism destinations for some time. Not only to consumers find the fun, but they spend more time on the site, are far more likely to become leads, and far more likely to share the game with their friends. Here's a sample of one that is still running (targeted at Canadians):

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