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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Munzee – A scavenger hunt for your smartphone

It seems every time you look there’s a new geolocation game on the market. Some of these are little more than thinly veiled behaviour tracking vehicles fighting for a place in an already crowded segment of the app market, but some of them are genuinely fun games offering something a little different. Munzee is one of the fun ones, sitting somewhere between traditional geocaching and smartphone based location-based games such as Foursquare.

Munzees replace the traditional geocaching paper log in a Tupperware box with a QR code – a 21st century barcode that is growing in popularity with a wide spectrum of uses. Using a GPS enabled smartphone, players use the Munzee app to navigate to the location and then ‘capture’ the munzee with the application’s built-in QR code reader and your phone camera. The advantages over Geocaching are clear. It’s not as disruptive as geocaching – the hide consisting of just a sticker or laminated card rather than a physical box. As a result, it’s less likely to raise suspicion than someone handling a ‘box’. At the same time, there is still an element of skill involved. Without finding the QR code you are unable to capture the munzee, meaning you can’t just ‘drive-by check-in’ like you can with many location-based games.

Just like geocaching the idea is to locate the hide and log it, however, whereas geocaching can technically be done by anyone with good map-reading skills and a pen, Munzee relies heavily on technology, the game unable to be played without the smartphone app.

The application has a built in scoring and levelling system, 5 points for every munzee captured, although there are seasonal and promotional events where certain munzees are worth extra points. At the moment the levels seem to add nothing more than a milestone target to aim for, but the game is barely a year old and they are still adding new features.

Players can also use the app to deploy a munzee, it taking and submitting the GPS co-ordinates of where you have placed your QR code. Players earn points every time another player captures one of their munzees so there is a great incentive to grow the game.

Whilst there is currently a small following, it appears to be quite loyal. Many of these are prominent geocachers who play it alongside geocaching and as a result there appears to be exponential growth in the number of munzees being deployed.

In theory it’s quite a simple system but in practise the game still has a few problems to iron out. Like a lot of smartphone games, the system relies heavily on 3G and until very recently if you didn’t have a 3G signal it was impossible to capture a munzee. That’s not much of an issue for traditional smartphone games as they tend to be predominantly urban based, but many players have started putting Munzees inside their rural geocaches as a ‘bonus’ and in those instances you are often in a situation where your network doesn’t have 3G coverage. The developers have recently introduced off-line capturing for such eventualities but there are still a few bugs to iron out.

It can also be a job capturing munzees as you angle your phone in and out, trying to hit the sweet spot where your phone can read the QR code. The app does offer some helpful tips however I think the one which would be of most use is ‘clean your iPhone lens’.

The app is available for free for iOS devices and Android only at present (with Windows phone in development) and whilst I’ve not tested it on Android , on both the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 it has proved to be a little temperamental. To be honest this hasn’t been helped by me pressing the home button intending to close the QR reader sub-section of the app, and finding that I’ve closed down the entire app instead.

Making use of both the phone’s camera and GPS means it does drain your battery, and whilst with a handheld GPS unit it’s possible to go geocaching for a day, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to go munzeeing for more than a couple of hours without a recharge.

The distance that Munzees have to be from each other is a lot less than geocaching. As someone who doesn’t mind Geocaching power trails, I can honestly say that even I find Munzee’s 150ft proximity rule to be a little close.

That said, I do believe the game has merit and if they can iron out the problems (and given the introduction of off-line capturing there is every evidence that they are working on addressing the issues and growing the game) then this could become a major player in the location-based games market.

If you like location based games but have found geocaching a bit too muddy, or want a change from geocaching but don’t like virtual check-ins, it’s definitely worth checking out Munzee. You can sign up and find further details at munzee.com.

About Adrian Faulkner

Adrian Faulkner is a writer of both fiction and non-fiction. He is an active geocacher with over 9000 finds to his name. You can find more by Adrian at AdrianFaulkner.com and on his Google Plus page.

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