bee in the city

The Bees and the Brontosauruses

Or is it Brontosauri? Let’s start with the Bees…

Manchester is a hive of activity at the moment with ‘Bee in the City’ in full flight (I could work for a tabloid). Families, couples and curious parties trek from one side of the city to the other looking for the next winged work of art and all important number to register on the associated app. The app map becomes very handy when in pursuit of the 105 bees, although you have to zoom in super close to actually make out the streets and street names amongst the bee symbols.

Bee in the city

The app isn’t without its issues, which shouldn’t take the shine off the overall experience. I used a Samsung S8, which proved useless when I attempting to access the solitary AR component, a hovering bee at one of the bee sculptures outside the central library. Another bystander squealed with glee as the bee successfully bumbled around on their iphone. I watched with subdued interest, hoping to see something a bit more engaging, a simple game perhaps. The thing is, Bee in the City is a missed opportunity when it comes to interactive content. I didn’t consider the treasure hunt aspect to be especially engaging – it took me to parts of the city I had never been and I enjoyed seeing the new sights. The app would crash with great regularity and when in close proximity to the new bees I would find the associated code had already been entered. On these occasions there was little else to do in the app, apart from see where the next bee was. Cunningly the app integrates a number of deals associated with the local business or sponsor of each sculpture. This is a commendable aspect of the app as an economic driver for the charitable project and highlights the extensive coordination the project will have required.

City Verve backed a more engaging app recently called City of Firsts, run via the Buzzin’ app (reminded me a bit of Foursquare) and created by Sparta Digital. Buzzin’ also featured map system with destinations clearly marked throughout Manchester. I opted to approach the University district and found destinations were also marked by sculptures – nicely designed, with subtle 3D ‘M’ plinths, presumably standing for Manchester. Convenient height for a coffee. These sculptures featured interactive content, accessed through AR and audio.

Buzzin

QR codes across the top of the plinths accessed augmented objects to explore, associated with short historic narratives, which were also delivered via recordings of people in AR. These speakers highlighted characters of local and global historic significance. I was genuinely surprised and engaged by the pivotal role many of these people played. I had no idea for example that the first stored computer program was created locally, by Sir Frederic Williams and Tom Kilburn. I came across parts of the campus of MMU and University of Manchester that I had never seen before. The landscape architecture around the Bright Building was a pleasant surprise.

Manchester sites

The Buzzin’ City of Firsts experience would have benefited from a series of connected stories, opening opportunities for mystery of puzzle solving. I understand the benefit of having sculptures as way finders linking to the apps, Buzzin’ or Bee in the City included, but there is opportunity to capitalise on existing infrastructure as part of this experience. It would be great to see a bit more creative licence taken too. It’s safe to stick to the solid historic facts and figures but if these apps are to sustain interest and offer replay value there needs to be more engaging content.

Take Jurassic World Alive for example. I understand this is more of a game but bear with me. I have been playing for a few months now and it has kept me coming back for a few reasons. It leverages off the Jurassic World licence, providing broad appeal through dinosaurs – I’m as interested as my 7-year-old nephew. The challenges within the game revolve around the discovery, capture and collection of dinosaurs, which requires an increasing level of skill to achieve. This gives the experience a difficulty curve. It has recently been updated to include battle modes to pitch dinosaurs against one another, providing a competitive element.

JWAlive

Yes, the game can be played anywhere and doesn’t tell you anything about the locations you are in. Yes, it is less serious in nature, whereas the other two apps mentioned are more serious in their intent for local benefit. What I’m alluding to is that there could be more playable aspects to location exclusive apps like Buzzin’ and Bee in the City. How long will it be before we start to see locations more heavily backed and marketed for engaging, playable digital content?