At a prior visit a couple of months ago, we were given a pamphlet by the gallery staff for a new mobile app game sponsored by and set in the gallery.
It is called Time Tremors Treasure Hunt.
It sounded great. It's essentially a scavenger hunt that encourages interaction with fine art. What a great way to explore the gallery and have fun. And I was looking forward to blogging about my experience here.
I never pay for mobile apps - mostly because there are so many excellent free ones out there. This one costs $3 - which I think is a lot for a kid's app one is only apt to use once or twice.
But I was really excited about the potential of using a mobile device for a mixed reality game (a.k.a. alternative reality game). I've only ever done one before -Google's Ingress, which was cool but needs more of a compelling narrative or active gameplay.
Before we downloaded Time Tremors onto our Android smartphone we read the reviews on Google Play. The app was only launched a few months ago, so we weren't concerned that there was only one review and it was negative.
There are four games one can play in the app - all centered around visually finding specific items in the gallery via text clues. All the low-tech features seem to work fine. There is no intro to explain the overall situation - you have to get that from their website or companion television show (which is a weakness). There's also no introductory motivation within the app to explain the need to accomplish the challenges. Overall, though it seems like a nice-looking and engaging app.
Early into two of the games, they have a feature requiring one to complete the task of scanning a painting. It absolutely does not work. We tried to get the scan feature to work for two different paintings for at least 30 minutes and nothing could make it work. The security guard there said other people have had the same problem - as did a reviewer.
Frankly, I'm dumbfounded this problem wasn't uncovered during testing.
But, I can live with a bug or two - if it isn't fatal. But due to poor game design their bug is indeed lethal. The app doesn't allow one to skip any challenges, so if for some reason you can't find one item or complete a task due a bug, the game will not progress - unceremoniously ending it for the users - in this case a 10-year-old kid.
The second killer problem is the gallery's fault - and it is really baffling on the part of the gallery considering how prominently they have hyped this game via brochures and website. One of the challenges requires finding a specific painting and answering questions about it. But the gallery has removed one of the paintings only weeks since launching the app. I know games get outdated - a particular problem with mixed reality games - but considering how new this app is, there really is no excuse for this.
Again, if there was the ability to skip a challenge, we could have still played the game. But a gallery mistake combined by a design flaw ends in frustration.
As we had planned a whole day around this game, it was really frustrating for my daughter and me (mobile geek that I am) and a rip-off of $3 plus gallery admission!
We talked to the gallery's front desk staff and apparently they knew the app doesn't work and were advising people not to use it. I wish we knew that before we wasted our time and money.
I emailed the app development company and the gallery in a hope to receive a refund. I waited to post this in case some excellent customer service made up for an awful app experience. But it's been days now and no reply from anyone.
BUT...In the last couple of days the app was removed from Google Play and iTunes was updated with a note about the moved painting, so they must have got my message.
In the end, I'm most upset that Toronto finally got a cool digital media game it doesn't work. Also, based on the little we were able to play the game it did make the gallery experience much more fun, interactive, and educational. The educational component about the art was really effective and the game play provided an awesome way for kids to learn while having fun. It's a sad missed opportunity for Toronto, the gallery, and kids.
Update: Six days after I contacted the developers they got back to me, offering a refund and apologies. The next day the art gallery also contacted me and offerred a refund. So in the end, the customer service was satisfactory if slow.