Hunting for Treasure - Gamifying the Science Museum


So the story with this project started when the Science Museum put out a tender for ideas to create an ‘Object Hunt’ game using photos. They wanted ideas that would embrace mobile usage, and get visitors to use their phones to engage with the museum exhibits – and most importantly the subject of science.

From their own research, the Science Museum knew that 80% of their visitors owned a smartphone, and that the highest activity – after browsing the internet – was taking a photo or video. They wanted to create a quick, fun experience that wouldn’t get in the way of enjoying the museum itself, that would allow its users to share an experience, and would spark debate and curiosity.

The museum had already had some success with introducing playful paper-based resources for visitors to enjoy as they explored their various galleries. We liked the simplicity of these resources, and the way they challenged people to think laterally.

The idea we proposed – and shown in these concept pictures from our pitch – was to think about the game as something that friends and family would gather around and enjoy.

The Science Museum were keen for questions for the interactive game to come from the paper-based resources – these were things like ‘Find something that could keep you dry in the rain’ or ‘Something you could use to travel across water.’ It struck us that the questions were pretty broad, and there generally wasn’t a right or a wrong answer – that if two people came back with photos of similar objects then some judging would be needed to allow a winner.

We wanted it to have a very quick game loop, so that two people could dip into a quick challenge while if there were other members of a group they be the referee in disputes. We also liked the idea of the ‘computer’, the brain of the game, having a slight personality in the way that it messaged players, or would pick a final answer.

The basic challenge – beat that!

The Game Loop focused on creating debate.The Science Museum liked our central proposition and in the Summer of 2017 we were off to work!

After work-shopping with the Science Museum, and collating business requirements, agreeing and prioritising user stories, we started to iterate. This started very simply with a paper prototype, where we had pots of numbers and questions to emulate the inputs a user would make – e.g. how many players in the group, how many rounds would you like to play?

From there we went into wireframes to get the flow of the game working. And because we knew the game would entail lots of handing over between players, what seemed a simple game turned out to be quite complicated from a user experience perspective.


The Science Museum has a number of museums in its group, so we needed to make sure that all were catered for in the onboarding. In addition to this, it was important that this app could be played anywhere – after all the questions were broad enough to allow this, and it would limit the scope if only specific to a museum location. Plus the nice thing about building an interactive product, we could calibrate the database of questions accordingly, depending on these early questions…

making it fun…

It was important to keep things friendly and fun for a largely family and young audience, given the Science Museum sees a lot of schools visits and family groups during the holidays.

For this reason we evolved a series of animated icons that players could customise their player avatar with. In addition we suggested to the Science Museum that there should be a series of challenge badges that players could collect as they moved through the challenges.

clear calls to action…

We needed to be very aware of the context of the game – that this was an activity about encouraging visitors to look up and explore the museum.

Hence the flow of the user interface needed to be designed in a way that players were clear on who was playing, when to hand over, when to huddle for a decision. We liked this focus, as it enabled us to give the app a particular playful tone.

We also made use of haptics on smart devices – so that the phones would shake to stress a particular point in the game and get everyone’s attention. It was always a balance between making something that was pleasing on the eye, informed and signposted well, and not making it too immersive – this wasn’t a mobile game after all, it was something to encourage and support exploration of the world around you.

testing, testing, 1, 2, 3…

We undertook two rounds of user testing at the Science Museum – initially with an early prototype, and then another session with a much richer application. Both sessions were invaluable in helping us to shape the experience. As a result of user feedback, we were able to improve things – such as adding arrows towards who’s go was next, using a slider function for referees to share points, and giving more sparkle to the winner confirmation.

The very best thing about user testing was seeing groups of school children really get into the spirit of the game, engaging in some enthusiastic debate about whose answer was better. When we saw all this healthy argument and furious fact checking, we knew we had got our audience hooked, and very soon the Science Museum would be filled with keen ‘Treasure Hunters’ 😉

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