Posted by: Waern | September 15, 2009

Technology in Search for a Job

Recently, my mailbox has started to fill up with invitations to various game competitions based on positioning technology. This one was from Alcatel and Vienna, and read:

Urban or location-based games – using the real world as the game board – are gaining speed as a hot trend. The folks behind Alcatel-Lucent’s touchatag – Near Field Communication APIs and mobile apps – are on the hunt for the best urban game with the Vienna Jungle Scrum Developer Challenge. With a tech twist on urban games and €5,000 up for grabs, the Vienna Jungle Scrum challenges mobile and RFID developers to use the city of Vienna as a backdrop. Using NFC technology – NFC mobile applications and “smart tags” – historical landmarks, buildings, and even people can be turned into game checkpoints.

This is technology in search of a job. Positioning tech is becoming very common, but there are still too few good game designers and working business models out there to really make the games commonplace. The biggest challenge is to understand who will play them. The most likely winner of the competition is another tourist application, leading visitors with too much time on their hands to neat places around Vienna. (The two first criteria for selecting the winner are “Education about Viennese history or culture”, and “Creative use of the city’s features and attractions in gameplay”).

If you want to enter, you can find more information about the competition in here. Maybe I can encourage somebody to try something different…


  1. It is also strangely positioned: the people who have NFC phones are the Vienna residents, who are using them to travel on the public transport. It is unlikely that a tourist would have an NFC phone…

    This is quite obviously a marketing effort. Gets a bit of publicity, ten participants, small gala and a couple of articles in newspapers. It’s not technology in search of a job, it’s marketing in search of a purpose. Has game design for reward and marketing purposes ever produced anything above average?

    Anyhoo, I would argue that geocaching is the most pervasive location-based game right now. It’s an engineering sport, but still, it’s a work of love.

  2. Janne,

    Geocaching is underrepresented in the book, to be honest, when you look at impact and significance of forms of pervasive play. It’s largely because we decided that the most readers know it already, except for the growing numbers of participants that outdate fast. Indeed, apparently iPhone has caused some kind of a boom in geocaching, at least that’s what some DiGRA speakers said.

    The most important form of location-based entertainment is tourism of course, but that one is indeed a very paideic form of play.

    – Markus

  3. I agree with Janne that Geocaching is the most successful positioning-based experience to date. It is interesting to contemplate the differences between Geocaching and this kind of event-based games. Geocaching is a lifestyle/leisure activity and a community, not a game you stage for a couple of hours to entertain tourists (or the press).

  4. The great thing about geocaching – I do a bit of it myself, by the way – is that it requires no buy-in or commitment. You don’t have to like a specific setting for the game, since there is none. You don’t have to feel bad if you drop out for weeks, months or years, because it’s something you do by yourself or with a few other people you know. You can do it completely at your own pace, as seriously or leisurely as you want. Some people complete 60 caches in one day (which sounds insane to me); others, like me, go visit a cache once a month and find 50% of the caches they look for.

    This is pretty interesting when you see it in contrast to the popular belief that community is all-important. I have no interest or desire in joining some sort of geocaching community; I just like finding stuff that’s hidden by someone out there.

  5. Great comment Matthijs! This supports Mattias Svahn’s claim in the book: that pervasive games might work best as casual leisure rather than as entertainment.

  6. This rhymes with our observations from Agabadan II, which we finished just a few weeks ago.

    The game had two different interacting systems: One that let players take on personal challenges whenever and whenever they liked; another that required teams to game master events for each other.

    The first mechanism effectively split the participants into two different groups: Those that took on challenges, and those that didn’t. The ones that did, liked that part of the game a lot, and some wanted to keep on doing these challenges after the game has ended.

    The second mechanism broke down due to logistics, bad planning, and – after a while – negative emotions (frustration etc). Only one event was run.

    Having a pervasive game – in this case, the personal challenges – that you can pick up and play anytime, with no obligation to actually do so, seems to be something that works well.

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