Adopting a product approach

By Ben Templeton, How we did it

In 2014 we wrote about iBeacons and, judging on the response, the promise of this technology clearly captured the imagination of museums, galleries and science centres around the world. Two years later, leading institutions are sharing their findings. As you’d expect for a relatively new technology, the results are mixed. 

While that hasn’t dampened the entrepreneurial spirits of countless startups, and as the creases continue to be ironed out, the question on our minds is: how do you make it effortless to deploy exciting digital products? Indoor location accuracy is the holy grail for all kinds of businesses, but – in straightened economic times – there must be far more reliable ways to build rapport and engagement with technology-savvy audiences.

Rugged Rovers was the result of more than a year working closely with the Science Museum to develop a multi-player game to inspire teenagers to consider engineering careers. The game invites players to design a rover and race each other across a challenging landscape. Given that museum visits are often social occasions, collaborative group play opportunities are very appealing. The abundance of smartphones makes a strong case for “bring your own device” engagement, which is another way to lower the barrier to entry.

We decided to combine the two.

Science Museum, London, 17 December 2014

Image © Benjamin Ealovega, Science Museum

Over 2,000,000 Rovers were launched in 2015 and the Engineer Your Future exhibition reached its yearly attendance target four months ahead of time.

While the vast majority of Rovers were created around the world through the mobile app and web game, over 100,000 were launched to the big screen at London’s Science Museum. The most telling statistic of all shows that an average of 4 rovers are designed per session, demonstrating the spirit of iterative design and engineering thinking.

Multi-player, multi-platform games that work on and off site have the potential to inspire massive engagement. How can we replicate this success for other organisations around the world? The answer was right under our noses.

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Rugged Rovers at MatLab Expo 2015

In partnership with Science Museum, Rugged Rovers has been transformed into a touring game that debuted at the Big Bang Fair in 2015, courtesy of the Royal Academy of Engineers, who now have a version they can install anywhere at will.

In June 2015, Rugged Rovers won Gold at the International Serious Play Awards and was nominated for BIMA and TIGA awards. This increased attention led to a number of enquiries. MathWorks commissioned a version for the MatLab Expo and at the end of 2015, almost a year to the day it first launched in London, Rugged Rovers was permanently installed across the pond at The Franklin Institute, one of America’s most important science centres.

Rugged Rovers at The Franklin Institute, USA

“In testing we found that visitors stay anywhere from 5 to 45 minutes building and testing rovers, racing against friends and family.” Liz Wangenheim, The Franklin Institute (Image courtesy of The Franklin Institute)

Turning a game that teaches teens the principles of engineering into a product that can be shipped around the world was no easy feat. Credit must go to Science Museum for writing a fantastic brief that put players at the heart of the process. User testing was so important in reducing our concept down to its simplest form, while collaborating with experts was the most reliable way to maintain educational integrity.

Our creative team then did what they do best and designed a game that does what games do best; present players with a compelling challenge and the tools for them to express themselves while solving it.

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Rugged Rovers in various guises around the world

This game of rugged design has, in a meta twist, become a rugged design itself, traversing all kinds of terrain, from adhoc conference installations to permanent residencies on two continents. Its success is largely down to the beautifully simple and highly rewarding interaction, but also the straight-forward hardware requirements:

  • A number of Microsoft Surface tablets, in a custom housing
  • A projector or large LCD screen
  • A Mac Mini as a server and highscore table
  • Some clever networking and data encryption for bring-your-own-device players
  • The existing web, mobile and tablet app authored via Unity

As audience expectations grow ever higher, organisations with educational remits face stiff competition for their attention. Rugged Rovers is an award-winning example of a game that engages people, young and old, for purposes beyond entertainment. With companies such as Google – and over half the British firms interviewed by the Institution of Engineering and Technology – reporting a critical lack of skills, games such as Rugged Rovers have more purpose than ever.

Product thinking has changed our approach to games with purpose. Unique game mechanics will always be an important part of our offering, but a strategic focus on product development has allowed us to lower the cost of entry and still maintain the high quality standards everyone expects of Preloaded. We’re still your first port of call for bespoke development, but we’re now combining our passion for games with product thinking.

Which means even more multi-player, multi-platform games at competitive prices. Drop us a line!

A fan of arts, culture, capoeira and cups of medium strength tea. Above all, Ben is passionate about the power of play to transform the way we learn. Since 2005 he has created learning games for businesses, brands and cultural organisations around the world.

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