Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Hunted ARG at Comic Con - a Transmedia Experiment and SCVNGR Review

So here's a video recap of our attempt at an ARG called "Slayer in Training" at this year's Comic Con:

What you won't see in the video is the frustration of trying to base an ARG off SCVNGR and Twitter when 100,000 people at Comic Con are all on their cell phones talking, texting, twittering, uploading photos and videos until 3G is dragged to its knees.  Luckily, I got a tip from a buddy who told me to turn off 3G completely.  For some reason, the phone worked better without it.

What's more, SCVNGR still has a few bugs.  Two weeks prior to the convention, I tried to set up the custom trek in San Deigo, but there's no way to test any of the challenges unless you're physically there, and I was in LA.  The solution is to set up a local business where you can test things, and then switch them over when you get there.

Another thing that didn't seem to work was the media upload, where it would play a video or audio file as part of the challenge.  I had seen the media player work for other challenges, but those were the custom treks that companies had paid big money for.  I suspect that SCVNGR doesn't work quite as hard to maintain support for their free accounts.

I didn't want to spend any more than I was spending on the rest of the ARG (over $500 for t-shirts, swords, buttons, etc), so I opted to use the free SCVNGR account which allows you only 5 active challenges.  The key there was the word "active".  You can create as many challenges as you want.  So I created a "trek" of about 20 challenges which I could switch on and off all weekend, which required users to keep coming back.  Unfortunately, the SCVNGR app doesn't always refresh challenges on the mobile device, so folks thought they had completed the trek when they had only finished a few.

Another thing I hadn't realized, I had created a story that was supposed to unfold in a particular order.  SCVNGR has a check mark for this (linear), but it doesn't seem to work.  It didn't even display challenges in order when I activated them.  Consequently, some of the challenges didn't make sense - like getting bitten by Edward when you already have a sword.  Why not just kill him?  I have a feeling that this feature only works with the text-based game.

In addition to the iphone and Android mobile devices, SCVNGR is also supposed to work as a text-based game.  SCVNGR sends you clues one at a time and is even smart enough to send you to a different challenge if there are too many people doing the same challenge.  The problem is, photo challenges can be a pain.  On an iphone you can just snap a photo, but in the text-based game you have to take the pic, attach it to an email, and include specific text in the subject line for this to work.

The biggest drawback for the text-based game is that players showed up as "anonymous" on the leader board.  From what I could tell, there was no way to track the winners online.  What's worse, even if you play the mobile app version of the game, there's no way to contact the winners!  SCVNGR has a privacy policy and the only way to contact the winner is to contact SCVNGR who will then contact the winner for you.  I suppose you could also make it part of one of the challenges to enter your cell phone number or email address.  I had planned to just get the email of the person who finished the trek.

While I was putting together the trek, SCVNGR tech support was nice and had a 1-2 turnaround for my email questions.  Unfortunately, when I really needed help at Comic Con, they were nowhere to be found and they still haven't emailed me back a week later.

If I thought they cared, I would make a few suggestions to SCVNGR like adding a messaging capability to the app so the organizer can post updates to everyone and vice-versa.  As it was, I told players to just keep checking our main Twitter feed.  And for some reason, the font size and the photos on the challenges were displayed really freakin small - to the point they were almost unintelligible.

Some of the cool functions of the app were also unusable.  There is a map function where you can track the location of other players.  Unfortunately, you'd have to link your accounts individually for this to happen.  It was hard enough getting folks to just download the app and use twitter.  What's more, the doggedly slow 3G network at the convention would've made this feature unusable.

There were also standardized location-based challenges such as "Check-in", "Say Something", "Snap a Picture", or "Bump Someone" where you get additional points for bumping someone else's iphone at the location.  Really cool ideas, and one of the applications of "Bump" is currently being used in a zombie outbreak app where you can infect another iphone by bumping them.  The player can even add their own custom challenges to the location.  Unfortunately, what isn't obvious is that all of these standardized challenges don't count towards points on the actual trek.  The points just go towards some internal user account.

All this being said, SCVNGR was still a pretty cool way to run a scavenger hunt.  Dexter had used SCVNGR at Comic Con the year before with some success and it was definitely worth a try.  It is a very cool app and a great idea.  Being a computer programmer, however, it's doubly frustrating when a feature doesn't work.  I'm just hoping folks can learn from my experience so all of this wasn't in vain!

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